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

OPINION: Should Charter protection against cruel and unusual treatment be extended to corporations?

B.C. Civil Liberties Association intervenes in case to be heard by Supreme Court of Canada Wednesday

Free wellness event offers group meditation, reiki, healing at Tractorgrease in Chilliwack

It takes place this weekend featuring music, kombucha, traditional First Nations medicine and more

UPDATE: One dead after early morning fire in commercial trailer downtown Chilliwack

Chilliwack RCMP Serious Crime Unit on the scene on Victoria Avenue investigating

Budding biologists sought to wade through waterways over spring break

Two students will learn about wetlands habitat and breeding habits of the Oregon Spotted Frog

Borrow $8 billion for Fraser Valley rail link, Abbotsford mayor urges province

Henry Braun urges province to borrow billions to connect Abbotsford & Chilliwack to Metro Vancouver

Victoria police arrest 12 anti-pipeline protesters supporting Wet’suwet’en

‘We are unarmed, they have guns,’ protesters chanted on Wednesday morning

‘Naughty boy’: Monty Python star Terry Jones dies at 77

The comedian has been suffering from a rare form of dementia

Four things ‘not’ to do if you run into Prince Harry and Meghan in B.C.

Here is a list of some things you definitely should NOT do, according to the BBC

Harry and Meghan should cover their own security costs: NDP heritage critic

The prince, Meghan Markle and their eight-month-old son Archie are reportedly staying at a mansion near Victoria

Theo the 800-pound pig trimmed down and still looking for love on Vancouver Island

“He’s doing really well, lost quite a few pounds and can run now.”

Pooches Jasper and Jake bring comfort to Abbotsford Police Department

Comfort dogs there for cuddles and play time when needed

One dead following pedestrian collision in South Surrey’s Campbell Heights

Incident occurred just after 7 a.m. on 24 Avenue near 188 Street

Horgan unveils B.C. cabinet shuffle changes

Premier John Horgan has made three major changes to his cabinet

Dog reunited with Tofino owner, months after being taken from beach

Shannon Boothman ‘ecstatic’ at pet’s return after a tip leads to social media search

Most Read