Originally Published: June 27, 2017 6 a.m.
Dear Annie: I have a problem with my neighbor that I don’t know how to handle. We have been neighbors for three or four years. “Mr. Yates” has a seriously ill wife who is homebound. He does everything for her, in addition to doing all the work on the property. He has been helpful to me.
Here’s the problem: He can’t ever seem to talk to me (a woman) without touching me. It’s always on the arm or shoulder, nothing inappropriate. But I hate it, so I end up avoiding him (and his wife). I think it is a habit he has formed and he doesn’t even realize he does it. But I don’t know what I can say to him to get him to stop. Can you give me a suggestion? — Wanting to Be a Good Neighbor
Dear Wanting: Being a good neighbor does not mean being subjected to physical contact that makes you feel uncomfortable. I’m not saying that is your neighbor’s intention, but it’s the effect nonetheless, and that means it’s got to stop. Some people suggest feigning a sneeze or a cough whenever you run into a “hugger” whom you don’t want to hug. A similar trick might help prevent any unwanted contact from Mr. Yates. You could also try standing far away from him, keeping your arms folded against your chest, offering cues that you’re not open to contact. If all else fails and you’d like to try speaking with him about the issue, I would probably step away from him when he tries to place a hand on your shoulder and say something like, “Please don’t take offense, but I’m not a touchy-feely person.”
Dear Annie: I am privileged to train and place psychiatric service dogs with our military veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Your response to “Frustrated,” who is annoyed that people seem to take dogs everywhere, was spot on — because you shamed people who falsely represent their pets as service dogs and because you reminded the general population that not all symptoms of disabilities are visible on the outside.
Service dogs are growing as a treatment option for a variety of conditions beyond their original use as guides for the sight-impaired. Service dogs can be trained to alert hearing-impaired individuals to certain sounds and can calm children who have autism. Through training, they can detect and alert their handlers to highs and lows in blood sugar, impending seizure activity, irregular heart rhythms, and impending panic attacks, and they can interrupt road rage.
Please encourage your readers to visit the government website dedicated to the Americans With Disabilities Act, specifically the page about service animals. The site, ADA.gov, features informative Q&As that clearly explain the rights and obligations of service dog teams and of the public entities those teams wish to access.
The wording of the ADA does an excellent job of protecting the privacy of the human portion of the service dog team — though that same wording impedes the ability of business owners to deal with imposters. With a little reworking, the ADA could be as valuable to the vendors and merchants as it is to the service dog teams. Please encourage people who are interested to talk with their government representatives and support legislation that would make it a crime to falsely represent a personal pet as a service dog. This could give merchants and local law enforcement a means to prevent people from misrepresenting their pets as service dogs. Change needs to start at the grass roots. Are there enough people willing to make this happen? — Dog Trainer
Dear Dog Trainer: Thank you for your important work training and placing service dogs with our veterans. Your passion on this subject is obvious and admirable. I’m printing your letter in hopes of furthering the conversation across the country.
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