At K9 Partners for Patriots, where veterans with PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or Military Sexual Trauma (MST) learn how to train the K9 that becomes their own working service dog, they are also taught to address intrusive questions with a brief but sufficient response rather than a punch in the mouth.
On balance, sad to say, our veterans encounter too much meddling and not enough civility. So part of K9P4P’s 6-month program prepares veterans to expect unwanted comments and rudeness; and, teaches them responses that educate the public rather than escalate what could become a confrontation.
What’s your dog’s name? Can I pet your dog? Why can’t I pet your dog?
You look okay; what do you need a service dog for?
That little dog? What can it possibly do for you?
Unfortunately, when veterans who need service dogs are out in public places, it is virtually inevitable that they will encounter thoughtlessness; even hostility from those who do not accept a concise rebuttal intended to open their eyes.
Too many people believe their curiosity trumps the veteran’s right to privacy. But what they fail to understand is that, without their service dog, many veterans with PTSD would find it difficult, if not impossible, to emerge from isolation and go to public places.
PTSD pushes too many veterans to suicide. It creates stress and anxiety for which there is little escape. Nightmares and flashbacks are frequent and for many it’s the service dog they train that is able to mitigate such events, reducing both the severity and frequency. It is the bond with the service dog that profoundly impacts the quality of life for those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or Military Sexual Trauma (MST).
When these K9s are wearing their service dog vest, they are working and should never be interfered with. If anyone calls the dog by name; tries to pet, or, feed the dog, that distracts it from its fundamental purpose; focusing and responding to the veteran to reduce anxiety and stress.
The public needs to know that no veteran has to justify himself or herself to you. No veteran has to tell you why they need a service dog. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is classified as “medical equipment” no different from a wheelchair or an oxygen tank. Understand that not all scars are visible. And contrary to popular belief, time does not heal all wounds.
When you see a veteran and service dog, honor them by respecting their space. Know that they’re a team, working together. Give them the dignity and privacy they deserve. God knows they’ve earned it.
Gregg Laskoski is the communications director for K9 Partners for Patriots, a Brooksville nonprofit serving veterans with PTSD. https://k9partnersforpatriots.com/.