Sept. 9, 2011: Everybody has seen the bench in the park labeled with a “Fresh Paint” sign, and observed that people who would otherwise ignore the bench have just got to walk over and touch it. The same irresistible impulse occurs with “Service dog” signs. When I take Echo on a walk and he’s not wearing his service dog vest, most people walk by, keeping their distances. I don’t blame them. A 90 pound Alaskan Malamute resembles a bear more than a dog. But when he’s wearing his service dog vest, it’s totally different. They feel an irresistible urge to pet him. Some people ask me if it’s okay, and I usually say that I’d rather they didn’t, because he is working. Once in a while, I make exceptions for kids; I ask Echo to sit and then they pet him. But some people don’t ask and go up to him directly. Some people even pet him even after I’ve asked them not to.
The other day I was on the bus with Echo. I had managed to find a seat and space where he was out of the way. A woman boarded the bus and sat right across my seat, facing Echo and me. She eyeballed Echo for few minutes, and then asked me if she could pet him. I told her that he was a service dog in training and that I would prefer that she didn’t touch him. I could see her frustration when I denied her request. She began inching slowly towards Echo. She got so close that Echo’s tail brushed against her, and for the benefit of the other passengers in the bus, she almost screamed “Your dog touched me, so I can touch him!”, and lunged for him. Echo was surprised by her voice and by the abrupt movement toward him, and he moved backward and let out a sound that made the woman change her mind. We got out at the next bus stop. I guess the “Service dog” vest is a powerful attractant.