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

Okanagan Symphony maestro joins KSS Music Showcase

OSO music direcor Rosemary Thomsom will MC the upcoming display of Okanagan music talent

Inaugural Barrels & Berms SBX World Cup continues at Big White

The snowboard cross event brings in Canadian and national stars

Rockets get healthy, snap streak with 3-2 win over T-Birds

Kelowna looks for more wins Saturday with the first of back-to-back games with Giants

Language course helps to revitalize Okanagan First Nation language

“Learning a Language: nsyilxcən for Everyone” course kicks off in Kelowna on Feb. 4

Peachland looks to hire climate action coordinator

Coordinator would help city reach its carbon reduction goals

Princeton RCMP make quick arrest in armed robbery after ‘brief struggle’

Princeton RCMP have arrested a suspect in connection with an armed robbery… Continue reading

‘Presumptive case’ of coronavirus in Canada confirmed by Ontario doctors

Man in his 50s felt ill on his return to Canada from Wuhan, China

Help sought in developing family practices in South Okanagan and Similkameen

An estimated 15,000 people in region do not have a family doctor

People knowingly take fentanyl so make policy changes to reduce harm: B.C. study

Dr. Jane Buxton, an epidemiologist at the centre, says drug users need more resources,

‘My heart is going to bleed’: Bodies brought back to Canada following Iran plane crash

Remains of Sahar Haghjoo, 37, and her eight-year-old daughter, Elsa Jadidi, were identified last weekend

Animal lovers cautioned against feeding urban deer – even if they beg at the window

Even if the deer press their little faces against your kitchen window… Continue reading

Highway 1 closed near Golden for high avalanche danger

DriveBC does not give an estimation for reopening

Second earthquake in two days strikes near Agassiz

A 2.6-magnitude recorded Saturday morning

Most Read