DEAR ABBY: I was having lunch in a restaurant recently. Seated next to us was a family who had an assistance dog for their teenage son. I was appalled when someone from another table approached the dog, began talking baby talk to it (while ignoring the people!) and dropped a scrap of meat on the floor in front of the dog's nose.

The dog ignored the "treat," and the mother calmly asked the person to please stop distracting their assistance dog while it was working. I was dazzled by her politeness in the face of such rudeness and thoughtlessness.

Abby, people need to know how to behave around assistance dogs so they don't endanger the person with a disability or the dog:

(1) Always speak to the person first. Do not make distracting noises to the dog.

(2) Always ask before you pet. Do not touch the service dog without first asking for and receiving permission. Petting should be minimal and cease as soon as the person gives the dog a command.

(3) Never feed or offer food to a working dog. It distracts him and lures him away from his important job as an assistance dog.

(4) Do not let your dog initiate contact with a working dog while it's on duty.

(5) Do not ask personal questions about the person's disability or otherwise intrude on his/her privacy.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures people with assistance dogs have access to public places and businesses. Please welcome them into your establishment.

"" KARYL CARMIGNANI, CANINE COMPANIONS FOR INDEPENDENCE

DEAR KARYL: It's amazing how many animal lovers do not grasp the fact that when they see an assistance dog out in public that the animal is WORKING. Although wanting to reach out and touch it is natural, it is no more correct than it would be to pet a dog that works in law enforcement. Thank you for your informative letter. I hope readers will learn from it because many of your comments apply to animals in general.

DEAR ABBY: I have a hereditary trait for low vision that is not correctible with glasses. The fact that I cannot see well is not obvious to most people. All my life people have been judgmental and become offended and stay mad forever when I don't recognize them from across the room or street, or remember them after I haven't seen them for a while.

As a professional, I have tried many exercises in recognizing people who don't have an outstanding physical trait to remember them by. Also (for example), women change their hairstyle or color often, and I can't discern facial features very well.

I just want to remind people that some of us have medical problems you don't know about, and we are not unfriendly or rude or have bad manners. Please give people the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes there are things about someone you don't know. Please stop being so judgmental and count your blessings.

"" LEGALLY BLIND IN AMERICA

DEAR L.B.: You have less a vision problem than you have a communication problem. Remaining silent about your disability is like trying to smuggle dawn past a rooster. People already know something is wrong. They think it's your personality. The sooner you set them straight and let them know it's your vision, the sooner your problem will resolve itself.

Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.