Service dogs are highly intelligent, well-trained animals who can provide vital services to their owners. They are so important that there are laws in place that allow service dogs to accompany their owners everywhere they go - only sterile environments like operating rooms, religious buildings and certain federal buildings are exempt from this requirement.
Although the usual instinct for people whenever they see any dog is to want to play with it, it's important to remember that service dogs are there to perform an important job. When something interferes with their ability to perform that job, the results can be potentially disastrous.
This is Hailey Ashmore and her service dog, Flynn.
They've been together ever since Flynn was a cute little puppy.
The love is strong between them.
Hailey struggles with several different medical conditions, including severe allergies, asthma and epilepsy.
That's where Flynn comes in. He's more than Hailey's best friend - he can sense when she's about to have a seizure so that she can get help and/or get somewhere safe before it happens.
Hailey was visiting her father at work one day when one of her father's colleagues started to pet Flynn, being unable to resist his cuteness. This is despite the fact that Flynn has a huge "STOP" sign on his vest., which is there for a reason.
The only appropriate time to approach a service dog is when their owner is in trouble. If Flynn is distracted from his duties (and he's just a dog, after all), Hailey may have a seizure without warning, potentially getting seriously hurt in the process.
Sadly, that's exactly what happened as the man continued to ignore the "STOP" sign or Hailey's requests for him to cease. Flynn was able to warn her, but since he usually warns her 10 minutes ahead of time, she thought she had more time and blacked out.
She fell to the floor and suffered rug burns to parts of her face.
Hailey wrote on Instagram "My service dog is my lifeline. I don't say that to be cute. He helps keep me alive just like life support. If he gets distracted this happens. If he gets distracted I can die. Do not pet service dogs. Do not call to service dogs. Do not taunt service dogs. Do not talk to service dogs. Do not do anything to service dogs. Thank you."
So many of us love interacting with animals, so it's hard to overcome that natural instinct, but it's absolutely critical to remember that some animals are serving a much more important need. Please make an effort to tell your friends and family and young children to steer clear of service animals, and approach them if and only if their owner explicitly allows you to do so.