Waldie is a certified service dog. He helps Don Watson go out in public after Watson was diagnosed with PTSD. (File contributed/ Don Watson)

Victoria veteran begs people to please not touch his service dog

Members of the public are often unaware of proper service dog etiquette

Two years ago Don Watson began training with his service dog, a golden lab named Waldie. Watson is a veteran who was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and before he had Waldie he never went out in public.

With the help of his dog, Watson is more comfortable going to busy places and less likely to be hit with a panic attack. But, because of frequent and unwelcomed interactions with him and his dog, this is not always the case.

“Often times when we’re out in public having coffee, people will come running up to the dog and pet him,” explained Watson’s daughter, Krista Janssen. “Parents point out the dog to the kids and just distract him, even though he always goes out in vest.”

ALSO READ: Central Saanich veteran finds calling as a service dog trainer

People will come up to him to pet him, ask questions about him or talk loudly about him. This causes distraction for both Waldie and Watson, which can in turn be triggering for someone with an anxiety disorder.

On top of that, when Watson tells people to please not touch his service animal he is often faced with a negative response.

Don Watson and his service dog Waldie on Remembrance Day. Watson is a veteran who was diagnosed with PTSD, and Waldie helps him go out in public. (File contributed/ Don Watson)

“When they’re told ‘no’, they can get extremely rude about it,” Janssen said. “A lot of the times the dog is there, especially for the veterans, because they have severe PTSD, so going out in public is big deal… the negative reactions they get is a huge trigger forward and it can snowball the effects to last the rest of the day.”

For Watson it feels like Waldie can be both a blessing and a curse, helping him go out while also causing a lot of attention.

ALSO READ: Vancouver Island service dogs helping veterans deal with PTSD

“It’s like a double-edged sword,” he said. “It’s hard enough to get out as it is, there are a lot of days that we do go out that I don’t want to talk to people, but they come talk to me… would you ever go up to someone in a wheelchair to talk to them about how beautiful the chair is?

I’m mentally disabled in some ways, and I need the dog like a quadriplegic needs a wheelchair. I need him to get around, just as someone with broken legs needs crutches.”

It’s not just the general public who are ignorant to service dog etiquette, but also local businesses unaware of the legal rights of persons with service dogs.

Watson recalled one Duncan restaurant where he was refused service this spring, because of Waldie. Watson proceeded to sit down in a booth and refused to leave until he was served, reminding staff of his legal rights. In response, the manager pulled the fire alarm in the restaurant to evacuate the building. Consequently, the owner of the restaurant heard from the chain’s headquarters and lost franchise rights and had to close.

ALSO READ: B.C. Guide dogs is looking for volunteer puppy raisers

Watson also faces criticism from people who tell him he doesn’t look like he needs a service dog.

“It’s none of your business why I have a service dog, it’s personal,” he said.

Service dogs can be used for a variety of different medical conditions including diabetes, epilepsy, PTSD and vision loss.

Watson and experts from the service dog field advocate for the general public to be aware of when dogs are wearing their service dog vests. If they are working, it is recommended to ignore the dog and to not distract it by touching it or talking to it.

“He’s not just here to look good,” Watson said. “He’s there to do a job.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Letter: Allen Way rail crossing proposed in 1980

Pitt Meadows mayor at time wanted it at north Bonson.

Maple Ridge group gives back to northern places

Teaching how to grow in isolated First Nations reserves

Maple Ridge school hosts FIRST LEGO competition

Students build and program LEGO MINDSTORMS to find solutions to city landscape designs

Votto, Morneau want Hall of Fame recognition for Larry Walker

Larry Walker’s number will be retired on April 19 at Coors Field

Slideshow: Maple Ridge’s winter wonderland waterways

PHOTOS: Water and wildlife at the Alouette River, Fraser River and Whonnock Lake

Closed mills, housing surge support a positive forecast for lumber industries

B.C. lumber producers have closed mills accounting for 18% of province’s capacity, RBC report says

Good Samaritan pays part of rent for B.C. woman facing eviction in can-collecting dispute

Zora Hlevnjak, 76, supplements her pension by collecting cans and receiving public donations

Should winter tires be mandatory in the Lower Mainland?

ICBC dial-a-claims go up as winter storm takes toll

Canada Post driver in hospital after ice smashes windshield at Massey Tunnel

Incident happened on Richmond side of the Massey Tunnel

Abbotsford bank ATM robbery thwarted by woman standing her ground

Police arrest alleged known robber running down South Fraser wearing balaclava

Kelowna’s ‘Baby Mary’ finds biological parents after more than 30 years

Geneologist and DNA test helped her connect with her biological parents

Fire truck, police car hit in chain of crashes on Hwy. 99

‘People weren’t paying attention,’ says Surrey assistant fire chief

Kelowna hotel to award couples for baby-making with Nooner deal

The deal includes a free stay every Valentine’s Day for the next 18 years

Most Read