Defining Service Dogs
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
The difference between service dogs and pets
Katie Edwards related a story to the Statesman-Examiner that a friend who works at Colville Wal-Mart Super Center imparted to her.
Ac cording to the friend, who works in produce, she saw a customer pushing a stroller through the aisle and stopped the woman so she could com pliment her on her baby. Imagine the friend’s surprise when she peaked in the stroller and saw two rabbits instead.
“It was awkward for her, be cause this lady had basically brought her pets into the store,” says Edwards.
Edwards’ friend’s experience represents a question that has become more prevalent as so ciety becomes increasingly pet friendly. When is it okay to bring an animal in a store?
Unless a business specifi cally posts signs saying that domestic animals are wel come, protocol usually regu lates four-legged admittance to businesses for service dogs only.
But according to Edwards, who is a professional dog trainer and owner of Laurado Great Danes in Colville, there is a lot of confusion over what constitutes a service dog.
“The challenges disabled people encounter dealing with a world that is not built to ac commodate them can be daunting,” says Edwards. “Most people are aware of the dogs trained to guide the blind, but dogs are also trained to assist with obvious disabilities---both obvious and hidden.”
Where can service dogs go?
The Americans with Disabili ties Act (ADA) of 1990 governs matters relating to public access for people ac companied by service dogs. The law allows these animals access to nearly every place the general public is welcome, such as public transportation, restaurants, schools and ho tels.
Despite the United States Department of Justice’s efforts to educate the public on the difference between a service dog and pets owned by the disabled, it’s still seen as a murky area that can result in conflict between disabled per sons and business entities, particularly places that sell or serve food. There is no legal requirement for a service dog to wear identifying tags or carry certification papers. Since the service dogs are normally trained by organiza tions with recognized pro grams, instead of individual dog owners, the service orga nization will sometimes (but not always) provide an identi fication card recognizing a trained service canine.
According to the ADA, when a person brings a dog into a business, the handler may be asked if it is a service dog and what the dog is trained to do. The tasks the dog performs must relate specifically to the handler’s disability, but the handler cannot be asked the nature or extent of their dis ability.
“An example of a directly re lated task for a disability may be a dog trained to alert a deaf handler to their name being called or a siren,” explains Edwards. “So a dog’s ability to fetch and carry packages does not directly relate to the hearing impaired handler’s specific disability.”
‘Public safety must be the highest prior ity…’
Changes to the ADA laws in effect as of March 15, 2011 now limit the term “service animal” to canines, or in very rare and specific circum stances, miniature horses. The ADA guidance document defines a service animal as: A) having been individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a disabled indi vidual. B) Has been trained to behave appropriately in public places.
“When it comes to dogs in public places, public safety must be the highest priority,” says Edwards. “For this rea son, the ADA is not meant to be blanket permission for service dogs to be allowed ab solutely everywhere. They may be denied access to non-pub lic areas such as emergency rooms because of unpredict able behavior of patients, in fection control, and space needed for medical personnel and equipment.”
According to Edwards, ne cessity dictates that there be minimum physical, health and aptitude requirements for service dogs.
“Not all dogs can take the stress of a bare minimum of 120 hours of schooling with at least 30 hours in public places,” Edwards explains. “They can be a variety of breeds, but all must be capa ble of performing certain tasks. For example, common sense tells us small breeds do not have the physical capa bilities to lead the blind. The service dogs must have the aptitude to behave in a friendly, confident manner to strangers and other animals in a variety of environments.”
Edwards added that exces sive fear or aggression in a dog impairs their ability to carry out their job and elimi nates their chance of being certified as a service dog.
What’s an Emotional Support Animal?
Jody Hoffman, a profes sional dog handler for over 20 years and Canine Good Citi zen evaluator for 10 years, says she receives at least one call a month from dog owners who are under the false im pression that she can certify their pet as a service animal.
“The most common thing they tell me is that they have a prescription from their doc tor so they can make their dog or cat a service animal,” Hoffman says.
Hoffman adds there is a dif ference between service dogs and non-task trained com panion animals, also labeled as Emotional Support or Therapy Animals (ESA). ESA’s do not comply with the ADA definition of service animals and therefore don’t qualify for public access rights.
“The prescription from the doctor means that the indi vidual is allowed to have their companion pet in public housing, like when an elderly or disabled person applies for HUD,” explains Hoffman. “But that in no way overrides the ADA.”
One-way individuals can see if their dog is cut out to be a service dog is to have it com plete the Canine Good Citizen (CGC), which Hoffman ad ministers periodically. The dog must have good manners and knowledge of basic obedience commands.
Hoffman recalls an incident where she was in a local hair salon and an elderly woman had a small dog in her lap who was growling and snap ping at the hairdresser as she attempted to cut the older lady’s hair. The older woman claimed the animal was her service dog and the stylist was unaware of the laws that ap plied to such a situation.
“A service dog would not be have that way,” Hoffman said. “If that dog had taken a CGC test, it would have failed.”
In the end, the main thing to remember, agrees Hoffman and Edwards, is that a service dog is a working animal, not a pet.
“They have gone under in tense training to behave prop erly under challenging and distracting circumstances,” says Edwards. “They have a job to do that takes priority over the usual rules that keep animals out of the workplace, public housing and other ar eas of society.”
BY SOPHIA ALDOUS
S-E Staff Reporter