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

Just Posted

Cops make fentanyl bust in Castlegar

Over 280 pills among drugs seized

Christina Lake artist finds fans in Hollywood

Cindy Alblas spent a day mingling with celebrities and offering them stained glass art last month

Federal candidates debate environmental issues in Castlegar

Few sparks and much agreement between candidates that action is needed

South Okanagan-West Kootenay election a ‘toss-up’: 338Canada

The Conservatives are currently leading the NDP by a slim margin

Check your mail for your Voter Information Card

Your Voter Information Card identifies where you can vote in advance and on election day

B.C.’s rural paramedic program expands, with home support

Advanced care ambulance staff added for six communities

BC Ferries sees steady traffic of post-Thanksgiving weekend travellers

Ferries filling up fast, sailing waits at some terminals

‘Save the kids!’ Dorian survivor tells the harrowing story of his Canadian wife’s death

Family held a funeral and placed Alishia Liolli’s remains in a niche at a cemetery in Windsor, Ont.

Okanagan woman, 91, votes at advance polls despite broken hip, shoulder and wrist

Angela Maynard has voted in almost every election during her lifetime

Heiltsuk Nation open first Big House in 120 years in northern B.C.

Opening means the community now has an appropriate space for spiritual and ceremonial events

Singh says NDP would form coalition with the Liberals to stop Tories

Singh was in a Liberal-held riding Sunday afternoon in Surrey where he was pressed about his post-election intentions

‘My heart goes out to the mother’: B.C. dad reacts to stabbing death of Ontario boy

Carson Crimeni, who was also 14, was bullied relentlessly, his dad says

BC Ferries filling up fast with post-Thanksgiving weekend travellers

Monday anticipated to be busiest day of the weekend

‘Wham-bam out the door’: Surrey man’s front yard left ruined by scamming landscaper

Resident warns neighbours to be careful of door-to-door salesmen

Most Read