Being called out in public; questioned, scrutinized, or even embarrassed. For people that suffer with a disability that does not have obvious outward signs this is what they dread facing when going into public places with their service animal. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 spells out the rights and protections afforded to people with disabilities however there is case after case of discrimination and bullying of people who are rightly covered under ADA. To make matters worse there are deceitful people who try to work the system so that they can enjoy their family pet in public places further making business owners leery of the need of people to have the use of a service animal. Ignorance on the part of business owners and lack of education on ADA laws for employees lead to some very sad and unnecessary conflicts that make the lives of people with disabilities even more difficult.
What is a service dog?
As defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is one that performs a task for the benefit of a person with a disability and the work the animal is trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability.
Examples of such work performed by a service animal for those for people with disabilities you can generally see are those guiding people who are blind, pulling a wheelchair, or alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure.
Some disabilities are not visible, such as deafness, epilepsy, diabetes, and psychological conditions. Service dogs also provide tasks for people with disabilities that you cannot necessary see such as reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, or calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
But the dog is out of control!
Have you ever seen a service dog bark, growl or whine? Ask yourself some questions before reacting. Did his tail get stepped on making him yelp? Perhaps this is a medical alert dog and you are seeing him bark or paw the person to warn of a medical condition. Certainly if the dog is out of control the handler/dog can be asked to leave, however, a service animal thoroughly trained by a person or organization specializing in training service animals to complement specific disabilities will rarely have this issue.
What is NOT a service dog?
Your pet dog, as well behaved as he/she may be should never be passed off as a service animal. Companion animals are not service animals in that they are not performing a task for your benefit to compensate for your disability. Service animals serve as an extension of that person. Each incidence of abuse of the system by the general public of the ADA law diminishes is power to properly serve those that it is in existence to protect.
What’s wrong with you?
If a person wants to bring their dog into a public place, the only questions allowable are, “Is that a service dog?” and, “What task does she/he perform?” Asking about the person’s disability or requiring watching the dog perform the task is in violation of the person’s rights.
No chair, no cane, no problem. Wrong.
The grey line of the seen and unseen is what makes the ADA law seem murky to the general public and opens it up to abuse. I do not have the right to ask someone about their disability. Asking the task that they perform for that person is allowed and often is enough to give you an idea of the disability. Why some feel the need or the use to push beyond what is allowed is an intrusion and a violation of the law. The proliferation of men and women returning from military service with a multitude of physical and emotional issues gives us even more opportunities to show respect for people and the law. With regard to the service animal, its keen focus on meeting the handler’s needs will be evidence of its necessity and utility.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm