Cartoon: Service Animal Blues

Another collaboration with Nadine Scholtes, who has quickly become a fixture. I asked Nadine if there were any topics that she’d particularly like to do a cartoon about, and she surprised me by saying “something about service dogs. Like people keep distracting them.”

That’s a little out of the usual for my cartoons – it’s an issue, to be sure, but is it a political issue?

But then the punchline to this cartoon came to me, all at once – the bewildered editor, the paw-printed paper – and it made me laugh aloud. And so I wrote this cartoon and emailed it to Nadine.

The train setting is Nadine’s – I think my script just listed several places where a person might doze off in public – and so was the choice of a bi-colored Australian Shepherd for our main character.

This cartoon oversimplifies the issue a bit, because the gag works better if the dog’s owner isn’t involved with any of the action in this cartoon. But after reading the accounts of a bunch of people with service animals, it seems that the rule isn’t “never ever talk to or touch a service animal,” so much as “never touch or talk without the owner’s permission.” Some owners are happy to let people pet.

On the other hand, moments after writing that, I came across a different person saying that being asked “can I pet your dog?” all the time “gets really fucking annoying really fast.” So maybe it’s more like “never pet without permission, and use your best judgement for whether or not the animal’s owner would mind being asked, and life is always risky so what can you do?”


This cartoon has four panels.


We’re looking at three characters on a train.

The first character is a attractive man in his 20s or 30s, wearing jeans and a button-up shirt with rolled-up sleeves. There’s a suitcase on the floor next to him. 

He’s smiling and leaning down to talk to the second character, a very handsome dog – specifically, a black and white bi-colored Australian Shepherd. The dog is wearing a red harness which includes a sign on the front saying “service dog.” The dog is looking straight ahead with a serious expression.

The third character is the dog’s human, sitting (we know she belongs to the dog because she’s got the loop of the dog’s leash around one wrist). She’s dressed in desaturated red pants with a short of puffy fringe on the cuffs, a pink front-button blouse, and is holding a purse in her lap. Most importantly, she’s asleep; her head is leaning against a wall, and she’s drooling a bit.

MAN: Aww, who’s a good dog?

DOG (thought): Dude! C’mon! I’m at work!


A close-up of the dog, who is leaning its head to one side, away from the man’s hand. The dog has an annoyed expression.

DOG (thought): I’ve got responsibilities here. Don’t distract me!

DOG (thought): Do I come up and pat your head at your job?


The man’s hand is now firmly petting the dog on the top of its head. The dog closes its eyes and endures.

DOG (thought): You’re lucky I’m a professional, or I’d so growl at you right now.

DOG (thought): But I will be writing a very sternly worded letter to the editor!


The setting has switched to a newspaper office. Two people – a 30 or 40ish bald man struggling to hold a bunch of papers, and a 50 or 60sh woman in a brown business outfit – are standing in front of an partly open door with a sign that says “editor.” The woman is holding a letter open in front of her, with the torn-open envelope in the same hand, and is looking at it with bewilderment.

MAN: What’s that?

WOMAN: It’s… A piece of paper covered in paw prints?

Service Animal Blues | Patreon

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7 Responses to Cartoon: Service Animal Blues

  1. 1
    mograph says:

    I agree that this cartoon belongs here. My take is that we should just leave the owner and their dog alone. The petting act is not for the service dog’s benefit, and the request to pet is not for the owner’s benefit: both benefit the person doing the petting. I suspect that neither the service dog nor the owner is dying to interact with strangers as they go about their day.

    … but I’m not sure what is at play for the petter. Are they being patronizing? Selfish? There’s something about their wanting to satisfy their needs, but ignore the needs of those around them.

  2. 2
    bcb says:

    Oh yay, now I’ve read two comics by Nadine Scholtes that involve someone who wants to distract a service dog! This guy needs an Uncle Jim.

  3. 3
    Ampersand says:

    What’s the other cartoon?

    Also, I don’t get the Uncle Jim reference?

    Mograph, I mainly agree, but some people do like interacting with strangers in a low-impact fashion. I liked it when I was a dog owner, and I like it now from the other perspective, when if the context seems right I’ll ask dog owners to pet their dogs. (But I wouldn’t do that with a service animal.)

  4. 4
    JF says:

    I agree that service dogs should not be petted or distracted.

    However, there is an unfortunate tendency for people to designate family pets as service dogs, and use that to take them to places they shouldn’t, such as grocery stores. I’ve seen dogs in grocery carts, and their owners say “They’re service dogs” to store personnel (or Wal mart greeters), even though they’re clearly not, and are often sniffing at food in shelves.

    I love dogs, but this action on the part of some selfish owners hurts genuine service dogs owners.

  5. 5
    Dianne says:

    I love the background in panel 4. I don’t agree though. The kids these days are great.

  6. 6
    bcb says:

    What’s the other cartoon?

    Also, I don’t get the Uncle Jim reference?

    Nadine’s comic Cool Uncle
    It’s a story about a young girl Lola whose parents died in a care crash, so she goes to live with her uncle Jim, the title character. It’s one of the most wholesome comics I’ve ever read.

    (There’s some, uh, less wholesome parts when Jim’s parents show up. They hate Lola because she’s mixed race, and they hate that Jim is AroAce because it means he won’t give them white grandkids.)

  7. 7
    KellyK says:

    I love the dog’s facial expressions and the “youth of today not as good as youth in your day” headline. I also adore the service dog – a herding dog of course – writing a sternly worded letter.

    As far as “ask to pet or leave alone,” that seems context dependent. There’s no one way of interacting with strangers that’s going to suit every stranger’s preferences, but a thing that a lot of folks find annoying is probably not a great starting point. “Is it okay if I pet him?” probably lands a lot different after 10 minutes of pleasant conversation on public transit than it does out of nowhere without even friendly greetings exchanged first.