International Assistant Dog Week is coming to a close ( I posted about it via my @animalrehabnews Facebook page), and I'd like to offer a little more awareness on this topic.
This post is via my co-hort and awesome person, Patty Ferrin.
Patty is an RVT and an amazing, fellow animal advocate.
She knows more about this topic than I do, so I asked her to write a post. The below is the excerpt from that conversation.
We truly hope it makes you think! (In the least...)
What Is a Service Animal?
Service dogs are defined as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people living with disabilities”.
These tasks may include things like alerting people who are deaf, guiding people who are visually impaired, calming a person with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) during an anxiety attack, reminding someone to take prescription medications, or protecting a person who is experiencing a seizure.
Service dogs are working animals – not pets.
They must be trained to perform a task that is directly related to the handler’s disability. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act - or Network) does not recognize dogs who (solely) provide emotional support or comfort as service animals.
ADA "Service Dog" laws prohibit discrimination against disabled people with service animals in employment, public accommodations, state and local government activities, public transportation, commercial facilities, and telecommunication.
In the context of the ADA, “disability” is used as a legal term as opposed to a medical one and has a specific definition.
Under the ADA, a person with a disability is someone who has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity. This could include individuals who are regarded as having a disability even if they do not presently suffer or show a (publicly) detectable impairment.
An animal who is not specifically, and intensively, trained to do more than comfort you if you’re stressed ...is not a service dog.
Service or assistance dogs are raised and trained by volunteers (!!) through a very intense and rigorous process.
I have been working with service dog groups since 1988 when I started raising guide dog puppies. Back then, we were very careful when we were out in public and had to ask permission before bringing a dog in a public establishment. There was no protection for dogs in training at that time. Only fully trained guide dogs could go places, even if there were problems and their human needed them.
Only through careful and considerate (sometimes confrontational) moments did service dogs gain access. All was good until people started being... well... selfish and taking their pets into places claiming they had a "service" dog.
DID YOU KNOW: It takes a minimum of two years and hundreds of hours to train a dog to be a service dog, and sadly one traumatic incident to end a service dog's career?
And: The military has proven dogs can suffer PTS (Post Traumatic Stress)?
Currently, people who truly need the assistance with day to day activities are forced to leave their trained dogs at home as it is becoming increasingly dangerous to have their dogs in public.
So an attack by another dog (just once!) can jeopardize the working abilities of that dog and all the work put in to him/her is ruined.
Even a bonafide service dog can be asked to leave the premises if it is not house trained, acting aggressive or disrupting other people (i.e., barking and lunging).
I had a dog in training (that I was not handling at the time) get attacked by another dog. After that incident, she was defensive around other dogs and had to retire.
After several years of work she once again became steady around strange dogs, but it destroyed her career as a service dog.
(She became a wonderful pet, though.)
It has become the "new normal" for people to take their pet "service dogs” everywhere.
I say "pet" because most people who do this don’t have a disability as defined by the ADA.
It is NOT to say they don’t feel calmer with their dog with them, or they don’t have a need for companionship or some legitimate issue.
It is to say they do not need Fluffy in their shopping cart so they are able to shop.
The responsibility of a service dog is real. They are living beings and need care. They are work. They need veterinary care, and they get tired.
Even the best trained dogs have a bad day and a good handler will recognize this and go home. As a trainer, I’ve left many events because my dog was not doing well. I’ve not made it to an event because I got there and it was too much for my dog and I didn’t want to negatively subject them to that.
As aforementioned, I’ve have trained many service dogs and I’ve trained a therapy dog.
There is a huge difference.
A "therapy" dog is a well-trained pet you can take places with permission such as a hospital or nursing home. Other people enjoy your well-trained pet.
I have met therapy cats, bunnies and birds.
Any animal can be a "therapy animal".
The airlines are cracking down on comfort animals because of several incidents of aggression and injuries. (Not to mention, animals defecting in the aisle...)
So I anticipate that we will soon have laws in place that will restrict home-trained service dogs due to this laxity in the regulations and this will (sadly) reduce the ability for those who TRULY NEED their dogs.
It is too easy these days to get fake credentials to make any dog a service dog. On a whim 8 years ago, I registered my dog as a service dog. (I would NEVER use her as such.)
To complete the request, all I did was fill out a form stating my disability. That's it.
I love taking my dog places but they’re plenty of dog friendly places to go without being deceptive.
I wasn't lying by stating that I have a disability or issue, just not one defined by the ADA.
So before you buy a vest online for your dog so you can take them everywhere, as many service do registry’s will tell you, think for a moment.
Please be considerate to the person who REALLY needs their dog and leave your pet at home.
Don’t ruin a service dog because you want Fluffy to go places with you.
How about that?!
It's confusing though, isn't it?
"Service" dog and "Assistance" dog are essentially the same thing.
And a "guide" dog is a dog that helps the visually impaired and is a TYPE of service dog.
August 4th = NATIONAL ASSISTANCE DOG DAY
April 30th = NATIONAL THERAPY DOG DAY
SEPTEMBER IS NATIONAL SERVICE DOG MONTH
DO YOU KNOW: The only TWO questions that you (or anyone, i.e., a store owner, restaurant, etc) are LEGALLY allowed to ask a "service" dog's handler/owner/helper?
^ A service dog working on "grounding" (= keeping their head on the handler's foot to keep them calm). This dog is in training to be a specialty service dog; one that is trained to work with different people with disabilities. For more information, please go to FreedomDogs.org