how should we handle a dog-phobic employee in a dog-friendly office? — Ask a Manager

I want to address a few misconceptions I’ve seen in the comments here, and weigh in on why some of the identified problems might be happening:

– Pit bulls aren’t ‘dangerous’ dogs. It would take too long to get into the full history of why the public view of them has changed, but the short version is that it’s got nothing to do with the dogs and everything to do with crappy bite statistics (turns out it’s not easy to ID a dog’s breed based on their appearance); racism and classism (pitties mysteriously became threatening when they became popular with poor people and people of color); and weird, completely unfounded ‘science’ about their anatomy (there’s nothing special about their mouths – the whole locking jaws thing was made up). Continuing to spread myths about them enables breed-specific legislation that kills dogs and tears families apart for no reason.

– Service dogs aren’t required to be certified in the US, and there’s a very good reason for that: many people with disabilities have no way to access program dogs, myself included. Programs tend to be specialized, and only accessible to specific populations (veterans, children) or for specific medical conditions (guide dogs). A service dog is defined by their ability to perform tasks to palliate a disability. That’s it. There are no other requirements, and that’s a *good thing*. It’s already expensive and life-altering to train and care for what’s essentially living medical equipment not covered by insurance – adding more costs and hoops to jump through just ensures that people with medical needs will be excluded. They’re also not required to wear identifying equipment, again for very good reasons (vests cost money, and they draw public attention when many handlers, myself included, just want to be left alone).

– If a dog is creating a health or safety hazard, regardless of whether they’re a service dog, a business can and should remove them from the premises. Businesses that choose not to do this and then blame the ADA are either mistaken or acting in bad faith, and by refusing to enforce their own boundaries, they worsen the already vicious stigma that service dog handlers face. The popular perception that the world is full of ‘fakes’, and the hobby of ‘fakespotting’, have contributed to me leaving my service dog at home most of the time because the number of self-appointed monitors who make up policies, grill me, argue with me, and otherwise terrify me when they see I have a dog (who’s quiet, doing her job, and bothering no one) negates the benefits she’s able to offer me for my anxiety. I can’t take public transit with her because bus drivers demand paperwork that doesn’t exist, and it’s a toss-up whether I can get a seat that’s safe for her (the buses here are rickety and she can’t grip a pole without opposable thumbs, so she gets thrown around unless she can tuck under a seat). My school and housing have been impacted to a degree that permanently threw off the course of my life. Invented statistics about fakes hurt real people with disabilities and enable businesses to ignore their own obligations.

– While I agree that dogs don’t belong many of the places people bring them, it’s worth considering why those people are bringing dogs with them in the first place, and I don’t think it’s ‘entitlement’. Dog body language and needs aren’t intuitive, and they don’t match how dogs are presented in the media. To someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know, stress signs in dogs can look like happiness. It’s genuinely difficult to learn about dogs, even when you’re trying, because the materials just aren’t there. I devote more of my time to learning about dogs than anyone I know who isn’t a professional dog trainer, and I’m still picking up new things and unlearning old assumptions all the time. You can try your hardest and still drown in bad advice.

– Cities are becoming increasingly hostile places for dogs and their owners, and there hasn’t been any popular acknowledgement of how small our worlds are, let alone guides for how to deal with it. Dog parks didn’t exist until a few decades ago because public parks were shared spaces for everyone, off-leash dogs included. When those spaces were taken away from dog owners, dog parks, many of them tiny and devoid of any real space or enrichment, were their consolation prize. Traffic noises, crowding, longer hours at work, few choices about where to live because landlords are allowed to exclude tenants with dogs, inaccessibility of home ownership with backyards, bans on bringing dogs on public transit or even in taxis – cities are overstimulating places where the movement of dogs is heavily restricted, and when your dog’s movement is restricted, yours is, too. Humans trying to carve out niches where they can spend time with their dogs and give those dogs what they think will be new and enjoyable experiences is a predictable if not always productive reaction to an environment where you have very few spaces and freedoms.

Please, please try to have some compassion for dog owners. You don’t have to prioritize them in your policies, but sneering about their perceived entitlement, or presenting conflicts as between ‘humans and dogs’ rather than ‘humans who have trouble with dogs and humans who have dogs’, ignores the larger societal forces behind why people are acting the way they are, and makes finding actual solutions that much more difficult.

(And I do get it, I really do. I was terrified of dogs for most of my life after a childhood encounter gone wrong, and I know how hard it is to be around dogs when you’re scared. This is a case where I’ve been on both sides, and I don’t see a way out of it that doesn’t include more space, resources, and education for dog people.)

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