People get into petty arguments with strangers all the time. They are usually brief and quickly forgotten about, and everyone just gets on with their lives. However these days, with pretty much everyone wielding easy access to a camera phone, these minor altercations can suddenly take on a life of their own.
This argument at a mall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a classic example of this. Misplaced anger and petty vindictiveness over a refused request to pet a service dog escalated a simple misunderstanding into a viral video, that has thousands of people weighing in with their own opinions on the matter.
The video was originally shared to Facebook by service dog handler Megan Stoff and has been viewed over 2 million times, with people shocked by the aggression of the mother. It is (or at least should be) a well-known fact that service dogs are there to assist people with special circumstances or requirements, and shouldn’t be interfered with while working. Sure, a polite request can be made, but no means no, and this mom didn’t seem to understand that.
Had this crazy experience yesterday at the mall where some lady asked if she could pet the dogs. People ask us all the time so I just said, “no.” All the dogs are working so it’s my go to answer. And they walked away. No big deal right? This lady went out of her way to come back with her child and yell at us for saying “no” and for not saying, “nO iM sOrRy ThEy’Re TrAiNiNg.” And we should “have a sign or something.” You mean the 20 patches on my dog that say don’t pet? Entitlement these days is real. They even got mall security because we said they couldn’t pet the working dogs. Security said that the lady was crying So much harassment for just saying no. This video is public and is shareable. There was no common sense here.
Posted by ML Leigh on Thursday, December 20, 2018
The group were on a meet-up at the mall, getting to know each other as fellow service dog handlers. One of the group, Ciarán Williamson, couldn’t understand why being told ‘no’ upset the mom quite as it did, and after being confronted by the mall security that she called on them, decided that enough was enough and went home. Ciarán gave his perspective on being a service dog handler to Bored Panda. “I don’t necessarily mind being asked to pet my dog, though usually, I have to tell people no,” he told us. “I don’t really get upset by having to do this unless it’s a particularly stressful day or environment and I’m having trouble doing what I’ve set out to do in the first place.”
“I’d rather people ask than just lean in and try to grab her, which happens every day… but I don’t always have the energy to explain what she’s doing or why she can’t be petted. I’m autistic and sometimes just can’t speak very efficiently at all so I can’t explain even if I wanted to. I might shake my head no, or indicate in some other short way not to pet her or talk to her, and I just want to have that respected. People also often take pictures of us without asking and that makes me really super uncomfortable, I don’t want people to do that at all.”
“I guess I just don’t want people to assume I am able to divert my attention to interact with them how they want me to, and that if someone has a service dog in the first place it means they’re disabled and probably having a hard time already. Using judgment about whether it’s appropriate to ask to pet helps (does the dog already have a vest on that says not to pet? Is it really loud and busy and chaotic of an atmosphere? Does the service dog handler look uncomfortable or distracted?) I have let people pet her, but in really specific situations where I can focus on making sure I keep her attention and I know I won’t need her to work for me at that moment.”
“Unfortunately I feel like people don’t consider me at all when they ask to interact with my service dog the majority of the time. Usually people just lean in and talk to her or try to pet her without even acknowledging me… They also often just assume I’m rude instead of something out of my control (like I can’t hear them, which happens a lot in overstimulating environments). I am concerned about people continuing to do these things because it’s really common.”
“My dog Clover is doing very well in training though, she has a Facebook page I started for her recently so people could see her and ask me questions about her and stuff there if they’re curious. I like talking about my service dog, just not necessarily when I’m trying to go grocery shopping! She deals well with strangers approaching but she is a very friendly and outgoing dog that enjoys people so attention from other people can be a big distraction for her and it’s something we have to work on all the time. I don’t think people consider that when they get upset about not being allowed to pet her.”