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Animal or Human Behavior?

I was appalled at the behavior I saw today. It is the first day of spring break, and I took my service dog to a museum with animals. At the front desk, I was seriously informed that the museum does not allow dogs. I expected this, because many people do not recognize a service dog even when he has a bright red vest on that says SERVICE DOG.

After politely informing the museum staff, I was briefed on their policy and handed a 3 page form. It asked for some of my personal information, and detailed under no uncertain terms how my service dog could be removed. Now, my job is handling animals so I understand the importance of not disturbing and stressing them. Stress can cause illness and even kill an animal.

I was informed that museum staff would be watching me. In addition to behavioral removal, if my dog's mere quiet presence disturbed an animal, I would be asked to leave. Nervously, I entered the exhibits starting with the bobcat. I put my dog into a quiet down stay and split my focus between enjoying the cat, and watching to see if it got stressed.

The bobcat was chasing the rag of a museum staff washing the window like a housecat after a feather. The dozens of children on their first day of spring break began to flock around. My dog is used to animals and children, so he remained quiet, even when the bobcat began to take a predatory interest in him. The cat's interest was so keen he stopped playing with the window washer.

I got up to leave with my dog. While my SD was unbothered by the cat's behavior, I was concerned about whether this counted as disturbing him. As we got up to leave, a disgruntled child ran over and started beating on the glass- just under the "Do not tap the glass!" sign. No one stopped him.

As we traveled through the exhibits we encountered more challenges. The owls were terrified of my calm, quiet dog and I hurried him away under the watchful eyes of a museum staff. Meanwhile, children screamed and shouted, and ran up to the glass. Was it really my dog that scared the owls? It's hard to say.

At the otters, I took my dog down to the underwater viewing section. He stayed laying down while half a dozen children banged on the glass simultaneously. I watched children climb up and sit on the railing of the enclosure and some parents even helped them onto it. Meanwhile, I am taking every precaution to ensure my service dog's presence is polite, professional and imperceptible.

I commented that I couldn't believe the museum animals weren't more disturbed by the childrens abhorrent behavior. "They see kids do this every day," I was told. It is so normal for children to intentionally disturb the animals that they have desensitized to it.

By the end of the day, I received compliments on my dog's behavior. My dog is not exceptional. He behaves to the expectation of being unobtrusive in public. Unfortunately, people are so used to inappropriate public behavior, that a calm and obedient citizen is a surprise.

I am not irritated with museum staff prioritizing their animals' health and well being, in fact I applaud it. However, I am appalled at the parents of these children for not training them to behave in public (especially at the cost of animals). Maybe I am spoiled, because I spend everyday with animals who obey promptly, cheerfully and politely. Maybe parents should try training their kids, or perhaps it is unreasonable to expect humans to behave as well as animals.

We expect animals to be perfect, but expect nothing of our human children. Humans are more capable of learning, reasoning and logical thinking than any animal on the planet, yet we have little expectations for children. "They're just kids," we say. But this is true of human and animal brains: What you learn when you are young stays with you through adulthood.

If you expect a child or an animal to be polite, considerate and cheerful and hold them to that expectation, you will have an adult who is a joy to be around. If you do not, they will disturb, stress and even injure everyone around them. Next time you go to an animal exhibit, look around and ask yourself: who is behaving like an animal; is it the one behind the glass, or the one screaming and pounding on it?


Unfortunately, I encounter this kind of inconsiderate behavior frequently while teaching humans to work with horses. Children and adults treat the horses as machines who only exist for their pleasure. Animals are people too, and if you do not treat them with respect, you do not deserve the pleasure of their company, nor the privilege of their service.

P.P.S Thank you to Calypso for being an excellent example of service dogs today. Even though I said you are not exceptional, you are a very good boy and give service dogs a good name.

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