As Sandy Keavy takes her dog Snickers, a border terrier, out for a walk, strangers attempt to pet and call out to him.
“Snickers is very friendly and I know it’s natural for some people to want to interact with him,” said the Dearborn resident. “But when his vest is on, he is working and helping me throughout the day.”
Snickers is a service dog and while some people assume they are only for individuals who are deaf or blind, Keavy wants to help raise awareness about helper dogs that assist those with invisible disabilities.
Service dogs can be trained to help people who suffer from depression, have seizures, mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, various types of autism or have low blood sugar. It usually takes three to six months to train a service dog, according to the Assistance Dogs International website.
Dr. Ronald Samarian, a psychiatrist at Beaumont Hospital has seen the impact service dogs can have on patients.
“I think service dogs being used in therapy is successful because of the interaction and comfort that the pets provide,” Samarian said. “Having a helper dog also releases a hormone in the brain named oxytocin which helps people to bond and connect.”
While Keavy doesn’t mind when people play with Snickers, it can be a distraction when he is helping her with tasks.
“Some people won’t know he is a service dog because they might not notice his vest right away or they can’t see my medical condition,” said Keavy who has owned Snickers for five years. “If people are petting him, he can’t focus on me if I really need his help.
“Keavy suggests if someone sees a service dog, it’s best to ask the owner prior to touching or calling out to the pet.
Mary Ann Bassett who lives next door to Keavy in the Beaumont Oakwood Common in Dearborn said she didn’t know a dog lived with her because he was so quiet.
“Sandy held a program to inform the residents about Snickers and I thought it was very informative. I only pet him if she says it is OK, but I know he is a working, so I don’t normally say anything,” said Bassett who is from Belleville. “I just think it’s amazing what he does for her.”
What to do if you see a service dog:
■Ask the owner before petting.
■Don’t call or whistle to a service dog if they are wearing a special vest.
■Don’t attempt to feed the serivce dogs treats without asking the pet owner.