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By: Chas Barrie and Peter Welch
Service Animals: (Part III of III)
In our first two postings we reviewed the ADA requirements regarding service dogs. We also discussed the different types of support animals and gave a general overview of the types of tasks these animals perform and the limitation of each type. In his final segment we will try to explain the current problems with misrepresentation of service animals, identifying legitimate service dogs and finally service dog etiquette.
Misrepresenting Service Animals:
People bringing their animals into a business today is not an uncommon sight. For most pet owners, their pet becomes a member of the family and provides years of companionship. However, as understandable as this may be, many have begun to take this love for their pets too far. As a result “service dog fraud” has become an issue of concern and does a great disservice to all those who truly depend on these animals for their daily independence and in some cases health concerns. Therefore, falsely claiming to be disabled for selfish needs diminishes the effectiveness provided by federal protection under the ADA for public accommodations. It creates skepticism among the general public and business owners about the legitimacy of any animal entering a business.
As discussed previously, the regulations were created in such a way that a true service animal and handler are not required to show proof of disability and documentation of the service animal.
The results of this seemingly harmless faking of a disability simply to gain access for your fraud dog to a business that typically restricts animals has increased skepticism among business owners, their staff and the general public. Subsequently, an attitude of distrust has developed among many business owners and the public questioning the legitimacy of service dog and their handlers. Access challenges, especially if not settled quickly; according to the web site Please Don’t Pet Me: “can be the beginning of very negative and psychologically tolling experiences, for service dog teams.” Unresolved challenges result in undue stress for the service dog and handler.
The end result of this has increased doubt brought about from fraud dogs and their owners. Legitimate service dogs and owners face increasing discrimination, in forms beyond basic access challenges. Negative experiences with misrepresented service dogs and owners are likely to result in business owners and employees (again as reported on the by Please Don’t Pet Me): “they are likely to hold legitimate service dog teams to the low standard that has been set by their previous experience with pets, who have been misrepresented as service dogs.” Some resulting discrimination could appear as, i.e., isolating service dog teams, seating them apart from other patrons of a restaurant or perhaps providing less service to the handler than given to other guests, or treating service dogs and owners with a lack of trust by assigning an employee to follow the service animal team throughout a store looking for anything that could justify asking them to leave.
Identifying a Legitimate Service Dog Team:
Every pet lover in the world who has housebroken their dog and has taught it to sit believes his/her dog is well behaved. Unfortunately, owners confuse dogs who have gone through good citizen training and been certified as therapy dogs as qualifying as a service dog. Often, a person who has a pet for which a doctor has written a letter or prescription for emotional support, confuses those animals’ rights as those of a service dog. Compounding the problems, anyone can buy a service animal’s vest on-line. Finally, just to add one more bit of confusion to this already complex topic, there are now businesses that allow pets in their establishments.
This has become the subject of bewilderment for many business owners. On one hand they want to do what’s right but on the other hand they worry about alienating customers and the possibility of property damage.
Though the suggestions here a not foolproof, they can be used as a guide to determine the difference between a legitimate service dog team and a pet lover with a fraud dog.
Pet dog behavior:
It is important to remember that the ADA does not require an identification vest.
There is nothing wrong with companion dogs, but service dogs have had hundreds of hours of socialization. Additionally, they received many hours of training in different environments and have been taught obedience for each.
A dog that demonstrates poor basic obedience skills and ignores owner’s commands to undesirable behaviors is generally a good giveaway of misrepresentation.
While it is possible for a service dog to have an off day, the difference is the handler of a service dog will address the situation promptly and effectively or remove the dog from the situation. The owner of a fraud dog is likely to remain with an out of control dog.
Fraud dog owners, when challenged typically cannot properly respond:
The companion pet owners most often feel they are prepared to defend reasons for having their pet accompany them, but will not be well versed in the ADA regulations meant to protect people with disabilities and the service dog they depend on. A pet owner who is well versed in accessibility laws would not risk being caught, as many states have laws against misrepresentation of service animals.
Service dog etiquette:
Unlike service dog handlers, pet owners are generally unaware of things they should and should not do regarding their dogs and the consideration of others. It is unlikely for a service dog team to exhibit the following behaviors:
· Lack of consideration for others around them. Allowing their dogs to roam around seeking attention, blocking aisles or in general getting in the way.
· Lack of consideration of their surroundings. Allowing their animal to freely explore products on store shelves, sniffing and licking merchandise or other customers.
· Lack of control in a restaurant or food service business. Allowing dog to sit in booth or on chairs in the restaurant, feeding the dog table scraps or beg from other customers.
· Lack of consideration for the public facility and staff. Failure to clean up after or notifying staff that the dog has had an accident or become ill in a public place.
General public etiquette:
Many people know you should not pet a service animal, but fewer people realize that a service dog should not be distracted in any way.
So what do we mean by distracting?
· NO petting
· NO talking to
· NO saying his/her name
· NO eye contact
· NO action in an attempt to get the dog’s attention
Why? Simply put, these animals are always working, they have a job and that is to keep their handler safe. Any distraction from their primary duties risks causing a potential medical crisis for the person they are assigned to protect. That handler may not have a visible disability, but rather a host of invisible disabilities that could be life threatening. So, as a rule of thumb, if you see a service animal team, remember if you distract the dog and the owner is harmed, it is your fault.
This is a very complex issue, and for further information visit:
Please Don’t Pet Me. (2016). Pets Being Misrepresented as Service Dogs. Retrieved from: http://www.pleasedontpetme.com