Fran Jewell, of Hailey, is the executive director of Positive Partners Assistance Dogs Inc., based in Hailey.
By FRAN JEWELL
As executive director and training director of Positive Partners Assistance Dogs Inc., I am out in public nearly every day working with our service dogs in training. I have been overwhelmed by the acceptance of our animals in training. I have been overwhelmed by the acceptance of our animals in restaurants, shops and on public transportation. This community has been more than gracious in its support and understanding of our mission. It is one of the reasons Positive Partners decided to locate our project here in the valley.
Unfortunately, we have had a few incidents that have made our training difficult. While working one of our service dogs in training clearly identified with a vest, another dog without a collar or leash came up to our service dog and "mugged" him. The dog's owner was nearly a block away. Mugging is when one dog assertively gets in the face of another dog and pushes him around, asserting his dominance.
As a service dog in training, the personality of our dog is quite complacent and submissive to allow for easy handling by someone who is disabled. The off-lead dog clear1y took advantage of the situation and insisted his way into the face of our service dog, distracting our dog completely from his work. I see it over and over again, and many folks think this is a "friendly" greeting. This is a life-threatening situation for someone who is disabled. A working dog that is distracted, even for a minute, could be disastrous.
"Friendly" or not, a loose dog downtown, without being attached to an owner with a leash, is not only dangerous for the dog but may be in violation of state and federal laws when the off-lead dog interferes with a service dog, either working for someone disabled or a service dog in training. The dog-owning public must realize the risk their loose dogs impose for someone disabled with a working dog.
Our valley is a special place for dog lovers. No where else on Earth do dogs have the freedom they are bestowed here. Be that as it may, most dogs are not trained well enough to run off lead in a downtown atmosphere, as this dog demonstrated. He was not under the voice control of the owner. The owner had to physically get the dog away from our service dog and without a collar had quite a difficult time. Had this dog run across the street to mug our service dog, he may have been hit by a car, right in front of his owner.
In fairness and safety to the dogs, it only makes sense for dog owners to take their dogs for walks someplace other than city streets and to be sure that their dog is trained well enough to return when called no matter what. I own multiple obedience champion dogs that have numerous obedience titles earned at dog shows. I love to walk my dogs off lead as well, but I always take them out the beautiful canyons or on the bike path where the danger is not as great. Dogs are dogs and as such don't usually have the self-control required to walk downtown or in shops and businesses without a leash or collar, as this dog and owner clearly showed us.
I encourage the public at large to please be considerate when you see a service animal and restrain your dog from distracting this invaluable dog at work. If you love your dog, be responsible while taking him downtown. Use a collar and a leash for safety and protection, or walk your dog off lead away from city streets. And please understand, if your dog does interfere with a service animal, you may be in violation of state and federal laws.
I thank all those who have been so gracious and responsible. You are invaluable to our program, to our service dogs, and you help us to teach our dogs under the best conditions.