Letter: Service Dogs and Public Access
To the Editor:
Thank you for your article “Service Animals Subject to Fakery” (front page, Aug. 9). I am both an individual with disabilities and a retired professional trainer of service/assistance dogs. I have been partnered with service dogs for 15 years.
Not all disabilities are visible. With many veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are ever-increasing numbers of dogs assisting traumatized soldiers with myriad physical and emotional disabilities. Those who disguise their pets as service dogs must stop compromising the rights of these veterans and the rights of all other disabled individuals. Rights to public access do not belong to a dog — they are rights granted to individuals with diagnosed physical or mental disabilities.
Few pet owners hoping to “fake it” understand that in many states it is illegal to impersonate a disabled person. To turn out a fully trained professional working dog requires an investment of $20,000 to $30,000, careful selection and socialization of the dog, plus two years intensive, specialized training. About 50 percent of all dogs selected for service dog training fail before they join the work force. Minimum training guidelines for service dogs hold firmly that a service dog must not create a disturbance or threaten customers or staff in places of public accommodation (hospitals, restaurants, malls, grocery stores, etc.).
Recently, I encountered a dog that was carried into the Co-op Food Store in Lebanon by its owner. I don’t know whether the dog was wearing credentials, fake or otherwise. The dog did not behave like a trained service dog, and the Co-op management would have been right to direct the person to remove her dog from the store, whether or not the team had “credentials.” The small dog growled, barked and tried to scramble out of his owner’s arms to threaten Nate, my German shepherd assistance dog. Nate, the consummate professional barely looked at the other dog and offered no comments about the plucky little canine’s inappropriate behavior. That is as it should be. Here are a few links that might interest your readers: Animal Legal and Historical Center: http://www.animallaw.info/articles/ddusassistanceanimal.htm; Assistance Dogs International: Standards http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/standards/; International Association of Assistance Dog Partners: Assistance Dogs Laws and Resources: http://www.iaadp.org/doglaws.html