Little dog, big job

For Lesley Richardson, the idea of dogs being a woman’s best friend has a lot more meaning behind it with her 5-year-old Yorkshire Terrier Baylee. Baylee has been a service dog for Richardson for the last three years, and provides her with more than just companionship.

Richardson struggles with anxiety and bipolar disorder. Baylee is an alert service dog that provides Richardson with a form protection when she participates in the university classes.

“Baylee has a job every day we are on campus. She makes sure that I am alive during some of the most stressful times during school. She is a working dog, not just a pet,” Richardson said.

Although Baylee is a cute Yorkshire Terrier, students need to be aware that when she is at Virginia Wesleyan University campus, she is working. Her role is very important in the process of keeping her owner alive. Baylee’s main responsibility to keep focus on her owner to make sure she does not have any panic or anxiety attacks during school hours, and if multiple people are grabbing, petting, yelling at Baylee it can cause her to become confused.

When you notice Baylee in the halls of the VWU campus or any other service dog for that matter, there are some things to keep in mind. Service dog etiquette is important in making sure the dog is still focused on his or her owner, and is overall polite.

First, take into consideration the service dog’s owner. The dog is working to keep that owner alive and safe. Be sure to always interact with the owner before you interact with the service dog.

Second, always ask permission to pet and approach the service dog. This is true in any situation that involves a pet. Permission should always be asked before petting an animal that is not yours. “If you would not hug a person you work with during work hours, think of that when you decide to over pet, hug, or grab a service dog. They should be treated as you would a coworker at work,” Richardson said.

If you are given permission to pet the service dog, make sure that the time you spend petting him or her is brief. Never offer the dog a treat or piece of food.

If you have a dog of your own with you, do not allow the dogs to interact, and never let children under the age of 13 interact with a service dog.

Never look directly into a service dog’s eyes or get extremely close to their face when engaging with them.

These dogs have an important role in the life of their owners, and are not just pets.

“Three important things I would want people to know when they see a service dog are first, always acknowledge the dog’s owner first, secondly remember that the service dog is working, and thirdly, never try to make your own dog a service dog in hopes to receive special perks. This has a major impact on the people who truly need the service of a service dog,” Richardson said.

Remember, when you see cute little Baylee in the halls of Virginia Wesleyan, that even small service dogs have a big job to do. After Richardson and Baylee graduate from Virginia Wesleyan, they will be making their way to Old Dominion University for their Master’s. Paws off to them.

Brianna Kidwell