DEAR ABBY: Yesterday I was in a retail store with my service dog. The clerk asked me what kind of service dog she was and I replied, "She's my service dog." She kept pressing me as to exactly why I have one, so I asked her if she was inquiring about my disability. When she said, "Yes," I politely informed her that federal HIPAA laws protect my right to privacy. She then said -- loud enough for everyone in the store to hear -- "I don't know what the big deal is. I just want to know what the dog does for you."
Please let your readers know how to be around a person and their service animal:
1. You do not have the right to ask about the person's disability. To do so is rude. Most people prefer strangers not know their medical condition. The dog may be for PTSD, a hearing or seeing dog, or to alert the person to a medical emergency.
2. Children (and adults) need to understand that when service animals' jackets go on, the dogs know it's time to go to "work," and they take their job seriously. At that point, they are not pets and should not be treated as such. If a child rushes a service dog, the animal may react badly because it is there to protect its person.
3. You may ask to pet the dog, but don't assume it will be allowed. If given permission, the dog should be scratched under the chin only.
Service animals know their place. It's a shame that most people are not as polite. -- NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS
DEAR N.O.Y.B.: Thank you for sharing this information. According to the Americans With Disabilities Act website (ada.gov): "Businesses may ask if an animal is a service animal or ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform, but cannot require special ID cards for the animal or ask about the person's disability."