Family, General, Godric, Sammy

How to think of service dogs

Yesterday we had a blitz day with the service dogs, who worked a total of six hours and were being trained for two of those. It made me think, as it often does, of how we got here.

Many of you know that Ginny decided to be Honour’s service dog before we even knew there could be such a thing for kids with emotional disabilities. Ginny was really the catalyst for almost everything – the fact that she was alerting to and responding to specific behaviors pushed us to get a diagnosis change, giving us something more useful than the words that had been attached to Honour since toddlerhood, and Ginny brought Honour to a point where she could understand her own feelings and give them a name.

During that time, we went through a lot of factual and emotional searching, since we were very, very concerned that we not do anything wrong. We were considering, after all, using a very interesting object (a dog) in a very public way, one that would bring attention to both the family and Honour. We worked through hundreds of questions, but the most pernicious one always was (and I suspect always will be) “Are we doing this because we have no choice? Or are we doing this because we have a choice?” In other words, if she could in any way get along without a service dog, be it ever so unpleasant, whether it meant drugging her while she was still a growing child, whether it meant rearranging our entire lives as a family to avoid her triggers, did we have a responsibility to do so in order to not ever inconvenience anyone else or ever made anyone else take notice?

The advice out there on the web varies from useful to awful. More of it is incorrect or unhelpful than good, honestly. It’s an unfortunate fact that most service dog dialogue occurs because somebody has an axe to grind. Sometimes there’s perceived to be an epidemic of fake disabled people with fake service dogs and therefore there need to be tighter requirements on what dogs can be called service dogs (and the loudest voices in that complaint tend to be people with service dogs, believe it or not; sadly, the age-old “I’m more miserable than you, so you should stop complaining” argument doesn’t stop at that threshold). Other sources of information are only there to make money – any organization offering to certify, ID, or register a dog without having trained that dog or tested that dog is taking advantage of your fear that you might have to prove that your dog is a service dog – which is illegal.

Because there are so many unreliable voices out there, I wrote up a few simple rules that I am absolutely sure are correct. I don’t claim to be an authority on service dogs, but these things I DO know:

1) Please don’t presume to know whether or not someone has a disability. It’s not up to you.

The likelihood that any human would know enough, medically and legally, about every possible disability to be able to diagnose the correct one (or eliminate an incorrect one) on sight – or even with substantial experience with the disabled person – is incredibly small. The definition of disability has a lot to do with professional medical diagnoses, but it is a LEGAL term, not a medical one. And it’s a legal term with a very wide base and very broad applicability. If you see someone who is using assistance of any kind – a dog, a crutch, a helper, visible meds, whatever – no matter how else they may behave, no matter how “well” they seem, assume they have a legal disability. Don’t congratulate yourself on spotting a faker.

2) The ONLY applicable definition of disability is the ADA one.

There’s a service dog website that gets a lot of pageviews and claims to be an authority on what service dogs can be used for, but it gets this wildly (and illegally) wrong, especially when it comes to psychiatric service dogs. It tries to argue that people with mental illness do not qualify for a service dog unless they have a “severe” mental illness, or that there’s a legal difference between an “impairment” and a “disability.” That’s absolute hogwash.

If your condition is, OR if its effects will be, OR if people around you assume its effects will be, long-term, and if one or more major life activities are substantially impacted, then you are disabled. Period. The EEOC has a very useful, and very long, explanation of exactly what a disability is, and if you ever have a question that’s the place to go. Not anywhere else.

3) There are no gradations of disability. There’s not a difference between severe and mild, between extremely limiting and substantially limiting.

When someone asks me about Honour, I say the words “severe OCD” because OCD is a disorder that’s been used as a joke for years. It’s easier to say that than to say “This is not the sitcom situation where somebody really likes a clean toilet; this is a human being who cannot touch you and cannot touch anything she thinks you may have touched, and, if something about you strikes her a certain way, she can’t touch or use anything you’ve looked at. She’s trying as hard as she can to not dwell on whether you’ve THOUGHT about that object, because if she faces that fact she can’t touch or use it either.”

But “severe” is not a diagnosis. She doesn’t need those words added on to make it a disability. Either you’re protected by the ADA or you are not; there’s no degrees.

4) There’s no reward for having a disability and refusing to take advantage of the protections you are granted by the ADA.

I’ve heard objections to ADA protections (including the use of a service dog) that basically go “Well, I have XYZ problem, and I don’t insist that anybody do anything for ME.”

Personal decisions are for individuals. How you choose to address your disability, or how Honour chooses to address hers, don’t get anybody brownie points in the game of life. That’s why the legal status of disability protections is so vital; the entire gamut of protections MUST be there for everyone, whether or not everyone chooses to take advantage of them.

5) Mitigating the disability – whether with medication or tools or a dog or whatever – has no effect on whether or not the person is disabled.

When Honour has a dog and she’s in a grocery store, she looks like a happy kid with a little dog. You’re likely to notice the hair a lot more than you would any behavior. But that does not mean she isn’t disabled. If, someday, she chooses to take medication to help with her OCD, and it allows her to live a much more average life, she will still be disabled, and still protected.

6) The name of the condition (or lack of name) has no bearing on anything. One person may be disabled by a condition that does not disable another person.

In other words, “I have X and I’m fine, so I don’t know why you can’t deal with it too,” is not an answer. Neither is “I have Y and I take meds for it and so should you.”

7) You do not have to be completely unable to do a life activity to be substantially limited in that life activity.

For example, someone with a certain class of disability might be able to work a full-time job where they do not have any physical contact with others. They may, in fact, do so with enormous success and rise to a position of prominence. They are still substantially limited in the major activity of working, and are still legally disabled. A wheelchair athlete is still substantially limited in the major activity of walking, and is legally disabled.

If because of severe acrophobia (fear of heights) I cannot work in an office above the second floor, I am legally disabled. It doesn’t matter that there are sixteen million jobs that are on the ground or first or second floors of buildings. I am substantially limited from working anywhere that is above the second floor, so it is a disability.

8) Service dogs do work or perform tasks. These are two separate things.

Honour’s dogs do both – they work independently to address her disability and they obey commands and do tasks. But they are not required to do both in order to be service dogs. You do not need to see a dog obeying a command to assume it is a service dog. You do not need to see them on the ground to assume that they are service dogs. Sammy, in fact, does best when she is carried, so she can be near Honour’s face and can pat her and lick her and so on. Both dogs do tasking on the ground, but are frequently up in arms.

Maybe the best way I can put “work” is that when I take a Cardigan out and spend the day with them going from activity to activity, they come home excited and energized. They may snooze happily in the car, but they see the whole thing as a big fireworks festival and come bouncing out of their seats and run around with the other dogs and brag about where they went.

Similarly, when we socialize service dog prospects as puppies, they run and preen and jump and show off, ending the day even more excited than they begin it it.

That all changes when they begin to understand what the vest means. When we get in the car after working with a dog, they DROP. As soon as the vest is off, they’re barely able to keep their heads up. They’ll sleep all that evening and barely rouse to go to bed. It’s as exhausting to them as a full day of manual labor would be.

9) There is no legal definition of what must be included in service dog tasking or training.

Service dogs do not need to know sit, down, stay, or come. They don’t need an out-of-sight stay. They don’t need to behave well with a strange handler away from their owner, and they don’t need to heel. All of those are test elements from specific service dog organizations, and any or none may apply to the tasks a service dog needs to do to help an individual disabled person. Service dogs need to be in control in public and they need to toilet appropriately. That’s IT.

Remember that the definition of substantial limitation of a major life activity is finding difficult or impossible anything that an average person would find easy to do. That includes not just “stuff you do,” but “how your body works.” Life activities can be seeing, hearing, responding to germs appropriately, socializing, working, and a huge number of other things. That means your service dog’s jobs can be just as varied, and their required tasks are almost infinite. If your disability involves the major life activity of standing or walking, then your service dog may need exactly that above list of training elements (a perfect heel, stay, tug, and so on) in order to do the tasks you need for your disability. But if your disability involves the major life activity of being in crowds, then your service dog needs to work independently, often away from your body, very seldom in heel position. They should never let you out of their sight, and they should object rather strongly to being removed from you by a strange handler. If your disability involves the major life activity of moving blood around your body because you have hypertension, and your dog reminds you to take your meds, then the LAST thing you want is for him to be sleeping in the corner because you told him he was on a long down.

This once again comes back to never assuming that you know more than the handler-dog team. You’re not “spotting a fake” if a dog is lying on somebody’s feet or curled around their necks. You don’t get to feel superior if you see a dog apparently pulling a person down an aisle.

10) A person with a disability may not always need a service dog. It’s normal for them to sometimes arrive with one and sometimes not.

Think of a service dog the way you would pain medication for a bad knee (very appropriate, because a chronic bad knee fits the legal definition of a disability too). If you know you’re going to be doing a lot of stairs that day, you need it, and if you forget it you absolutely cannot function. On a day that you know you’re going to be relaxing at the beach, you feel comfortable leaving the meds at home or in your purse.

We’ll rarely leave the service dogs at home, but we’ll often bring one or more with us “undressed.” They know when they’re on regular collars they can goof off and be silly and not freak out every time Honour takes a breath. If they’re undressed they do NOT come in to grocery stores or restaurants. They are off duty and not performing a service. If Honour realizes she needs them working, she puts on their vests and they turn on.

Someday, when she is living independently, she may find that she can leave her dog back in her dorm room while she goes to chemistry class, but must bring him or her to anthropology. That doesn’t mean she’s faking it in anthropology class or not disabled when she’s in chemistry class. It just means that she can see that the lab tables and stools are clean and everything gets autoclaved after it is used, but the anthropology chairs are still warm from the last person’s rear end when she comes in and has to sit in one. One place feels clean and safe; the other feels like a sucking cave of contamination. So she’ll have a dog in her lap in one class and not in the other, or she’ll someday have a dog in her lap during the lunch hour but it can be sleeping in a crate during most of the work day. That’s entirely normal for people with a disability, and has no impact on whether they’re protected by the ADA.

If there’s one major overarching thing I can say, it is this: The protections that are put in place for people under the ADA are not there so you have to treat certain people like they have a disability. They are there so you have to treat people like they DON’T have a disability. When Honour walks into Stop and Shop, she doesn’t want life to stop. She just wants to get a yogurt, pay, and leave. She is allowed to have whatever accommodations she needs to let her do those things in as close to an “average” way as possible. That is really what it’s all about.

Note in 2015: If you are visiting this page in the years since I wrote it, I am happy to say that the statements remain true, and legally valid. A new guidance document was released very recently; it can be found HERE. It addresses things like whether service dogs can be carried (yes) and whether multiple service dogs can be used at the same time (yes). If you have any other questions on what service dogs have helped us with, feel free to contact me.

Oh, and yes, every single day of our lives is still made possible by service dogs. In fact, a year ago Meriwether (Honour’s older sister) was diagnosed with an unrelated disability, and Oswin the Standard Poodle joined the family. It’s been an adventure training a big dog, but she has been remarkable for Meri. Honour continues to work with Sammy, who is now mostly retired but still sharp as a whip, and with Zola the Tibetan Spaniel and Katniss the Cardigan.

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  • Reply Amanda Rains June 20, 2012 at 6:59 am

    I knew Honour’s disability was more than what I could observe, but I was not aware with just how much she dealt with every day…and I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    She’s a strong little lady and I admire her.

  • Reply Laura June 20, 2012 at 3:09 am

    Thank you for this. Sometimes I feel like all we do in the service dog world is complain about how other people aren’t doing it right. When it comes down to it, should we be celebration that we found a way to live with our disabilities and share our lives with some of the finest creatures on the planet.

    • Reply Laura June 20, 2012 at 3:17 am

      Clearly I should not attempt to type things after midnight . . .

      To make it more legible:

      “Thank you for this. Sometimes I feel like all we do in the service dog world is complain about how other people aren’t doing it right. When it comes down to it, shouldn’t we be celebrating that we found a way to live with our disabilities and share our lives with some of the finest creatures on the planet?”

      • Reply rufflyspeaking June 20, 2012 at 2:42 pm

        Thank you – I did understand, and I agree. It’s such a manifestly great blessing when a disability can be mitigated with a dog, and I would rather see the world of SDs open up than close down. If we can offer an alternative solution, it allows people for whom existing therapies just aren’t working to have more options. It’s really all about choices; nobody should feel that they SHOULD have a service dog if they are disabled, but no disabled person should feel like they shouldn’t have one either. If it works, it’s just a tool, same as any other tool.

        • Reply Meagan R. July 24, 2012 at 4:05 am

          I loved this article as I feel it describes what I go through consistently. I have 3 different conditions that *I* believe I need a service dog for. Doctors on the other hand do not. 2 are more personal that I wouldn’t like to disclose, but one is I have misophonia. Going out in public can be downright difficult for me, not impossible, but extremely difficult. Sitting in a class (I’m a college student) and hearing that child click, click, click of the pen forces me to excuse myself from the class then miss the lecture because that child will not stop, even when asked politely to do so. Going to a restaurant and sitting at a table with that guy chomping down on his burger has me so angered I can have an outburst or my boyfriend needs to use all his might to help calm me. There isn’t medication for it, there isn’t even therapy for it, but for some reason my dogs help me to over come this. Something about their comfort & ability to pet them calms me down tremendously.

          Do you have any suggestions on how to go about me having a service dog? Perhaps I’m missing something… I just feel really hopeless about it. Yet a service dog literally could change my life and allow me to live as a “normal” person, even though my disability is taken as a joke by many people.

          • KellyK August 2, 2012 at 10:55 am

            Do your dogs (or can they) *do* something when you encounter these issues? Do they or could they be trained to alert to something (either a change in your demeanor or a sound that might trigger a misphonia episode) so that you can take action to mitigate it? For example, if you’re walking into a class, and clicky-pen guy is already clicking away, a dog will hear it before you do, and over more distractions than you will. Maybe they could be trained to direct you to the quietest seat in the classroom.

            As I understand the distinction “Sit in my lap and be cute and comforting” is not defined as work by the ADA. But “Sit in my lap and listen for potential triggers. If one occurs, pant in my ear so I don’t have to hear it” is a task. So is, “If I exhibit signs of stress, lick my face until I start laughing.” For that matter, so is any specific distracting or comforting behavior that you have the dog perform on a cue.

  • Reply Adrienne Harkavy June 20, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Succinct, to the point, and something to submit to mass publications (with pix) that might publish it as a public service. Just my $0.02.

  • Reply Dixie Rae Sick June 20, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Thanks for posting this Joanna…. some people just don’t understand.

  • Reply Bev Levy June 20, 2012 at 7:12 am

    Thank you for a very informative post. I love your photos but think your insights are very helpful too. I recently was on a plane with a lady and her service dog and over heard some folks complaining that you can get a service dog designation for almost any reason. I wondered why anyone cared! The dog was very well mannered and bothered no one. Personally I enjoyed a recent trip to Prague where people brought their pet dogs almost everywhere with them. Hopefully service dogs will eventually be as accepted as Leader dogs for the Blind are. Their contribution is so important and it is wonderful that Honour has this option available to her.

    • Reply KellyK June 20, 2012 at 9:51 am

      Yeah, that kind of complaining irritates me too. It’s like saying “Wow, anybody can get a wheelchair. How do we know that they really need it?” Being identified as disabled has a stigma to it (which it shouldn’t), so I doubt there are a whole lot of people willing to take that on in order to take their pet places with them.

      • Reply rufflyspeaking June 20, 2012 at 5:13 pm

        There is very definitely a perception issue. It’s human nature. When I was diagnosed with infertility in the five years between our “big kids” and our “little kids,” all I saw was pregnant people everywhere. It felt like every store aisle was full of them. Entire town squares were packed with nothing but gracefully swelling bellies. After I had Tabitha, suddenly all those pregnant women disappeared :).

        When you care very deeply about something, you notice and are personally affected by (or at least feel affected by) every incidence of that thing. People doing it right or doing it wrong seem to rise to an epidemic. That’s why it’s so important to have objective measurements, and to know what the real effects of the supposed infraction are.

  • Reply Karen June 20, 2012 at 9:26 am

    What a great post. Thanks for sharing- I’ve rarely encountered service dogs so a lot of this was new information for me. I am always impressed when I learn more about how much service dogs do and how their behavior changes when they know when they are “on duty.” I really appreciated hearing your perspective- it’s pretty exciting that Godric can make the world so much more available to Honour. It boggles my mind that anyone would judge or doubt someone’s right to take advantage of that.

  • Reply KellyK June 20, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Thank you for sharing that. I’m really glad that Godric and Sammy are helping Honour, and that Ginny was so helpful to her. And I agree that this is something that should be shared far and wide, since so many people get it so impressively wrong.

    I’m involved with the SCA (a medieval and renaissance group), and as events have gotten less dog-friendly, there have been periodic kerfuffles about people supposedly claiming a pet as a service dog so they could bring the dog to an event, and hosting groups wanting to require proof that a dog is a service animal. Yes, that is a crappy thing to do, **if** it actually happened and if it’s not someone making an unfounded assumption based on breed, or lack of a vest, or the person not being blind. However, it doesn’t mean that you get to require proof that an animal is a service dog.

    Personally, I would rather let someone “get away with something” than mistakenly turn away someone with a service animal (not just because that’s legally required, but ethically too). Especially since you can always kick someone out if they or their dog are actually causing problems. So if any of the reasons for barring pets in the first place actually happen with that specific dog (disruptive barking, uncontrolled running around, inappropriate toileting), you can still require someone to remove the dog from the premises.

    In that same context, I’ve also seen the misconception that a dog who helps with a mental health issue is not a service dog. So, Joanna, thank you for clearly explaining the difference between emotional support and work/tasks. I’ll definitely point out that distinction to people if the need arises.

    • Reply rufflyspeaking June 20, 2012 at 5:04 pm

      I think this is exactly right – it’s important for us to say “IF it did happen, then 1) what disaster did that cause, really, and 2) would different or greater regulation solve that disaster without increasing discrimination?”

  • Reply ng June 20, 2012 at 10:31 am

    “Service dogs need to be in control in public and they need to toilet appropriately. That’s IT.” The problem is that there are some who do not, and they are the ones that give everyone else a bad rap. Like the Neapolitan Mastiff that was lunging and snarling at anyone coming within two feet of him on the bus in San Francisco. That is why I advocate for some minimal behavioral certification for service dogs.

    • Reply rufflyspeaking June 20, 2012 at 12:34 pm

      I would argue that there are already rules in place to address that. Any dog who is not brought under control in public may be asked to leave. Why not use the existing rules, which protect against exactly the situation you describe, rather than ask for “behavioral certification,” which means nothing about how the dog will actually behave in public (ANY dog can be trained or browbeaten or rewarded enough to pass a test on a given day), introduces a massive amount of red tape, and makes life a huge amount harder for the disabled person?

      • Reply Sheenar June 20, 2012 at 2:24 pm

        The problem is that the existing rules are not enforced. By law, a business can (and should) ask a misbehaving dog to leave. But businesses are so scared of lawsuits, that they don’t act –they do nothing –even though legally they can.

        Not sure what can be done to resolve this. It is a serious issue that needs to be addressed –people bringing misbehaving dogs (or dogs that are smelly/not kept clean/groomed) into public and businesses not asserting their right to not have such dogs in their business. A SD should be well-behaved and under the control of their handler –not disruptive–and well-groomed/clean.

        There are people out there who, sadly, feel the need to slap a vest on their pet and call it a SD –and the behavior of the animal outs it as a pet. But businesses don’t act, so these people keep bringing their pets into public, creating a bad image for legitimate teams who have worked hard to train their dogs and dispel stigma/myths about persons who are partnered with SDs and gain access so we have the right to bring our SDs into public so we can go about our business and get our shopping done ourselves without dragging a service human into the store just to get some milk.

        • Reply rufflyspeaking June 20, 2012 at 2:37 pm

          Well, you’ve brought up a bunch of questions –

          1) Are businesses actually afraid to ask a misbehaving dog to leave? Have any surveys or studies been done to check this statement out? If not, it’s an assumption or an opinion and doesn’t have standing.

          2) Are people commonly bringing misbehaving dogs into public? Is this actually a serious problem? I’ve never (in my entire life) seen a single dog in a public-access environment except our own and those I have gotten to know as I researched PSDs. But my statement of never seeing one and your statement that this is a serious problem are, again, both assumptions. You can’t challenge the existing standards based on assumptions, especially since tightening them is so dangerous to disabled individuals.

          3) Do dogs have to be groomed/clean? Absolutely not. Are you making people pressure-wash their wheelchairs or crutches before they can come in a store? Are you turning away humans who have not showered recently? You cannot set requirements into place for a service animal that are not put in place for every other assistance/disability tool.

          4) You already HAVE the right to bring your dog in. There is no more “effort” to be made, and no responsibility on your part to “act right” so everybody will like you or your dog. If anyone does put that pressure on you, it’s illegal and discriminatory. You are protected and the only thing that matters is whether your dog is mitigating a disability and is controlled or controllable in public.

          • Sheenar June 20, 2012 at 3:26 pm

            True, it is not required by law that a SD be clean or groomed and not smelly, but it is a courtesy that would be appreciated by other patrons. I bathe my dog once a month and brush him daily –that is sufficient since he doesn’t get dirty. Even though a dog legally is the same as a wheelchair, walker, cane, etc –it is still a dog, a living creature –and it is generally more pleasant to be around if it is clean.

            I have personally seen the “slapping on a vest to take a pet inside a store” happen. It happens in the dog show world on a regular basis, for instance –people even post online bragging about passing their pet (they acknowledge it is a pet) off as a SD to get around rules and take them everywhere with them.

            And I have seen businesses not take action to remove the misbehaving pet being passed off as a SD out of fear of a lawsuit.

            The fake SD problem is becoming a real problem that needs to be addressed.


            Also the problem of some programs and trainers churning out inadequately trained or temperamentally unsuitable dogs –I’ve even read about a program placing young 12 week old puppies as SDs. It takes 18-24 months to properly train a SD from a puppy (socialization, proofing, task training, public access training, etc.) There have been news articles about dogs from such programs attacking people or other animals. One child has been killed. The whole SD industry either needs to be more insistent on self-regulating or the government WILL get involved because things like this are happening.

          • rufflyspeaking June 20, 2012 at 3:44 pm

            Look at those two articles – both of them from service dog owners/trainers who are mad because they perceive a problem to exist. Not business owners, not a single number cited, no hard evidence at all. Both are opinion pieces.

            I am IN the dog show world on a regular basis and I’ve never seen it happen. The only discussion I’ve ever heard about it with dog show people was wondering whether to put a vest in an emergency evacuation kit. In that discussion, everyone knew it was illegal. But these are people who would gladly cut you with a machete if it meant they could evac their dogs, so it was along those lines of dialogue. I don’t know anyone who has actually done it (included a vest in a kit). So, again, we have me never seeing it and you supposedly seeing it on a regular basis. No rules can be made unless somebody has numbers.

            And of course there are bad apples in the training bunch, just like there are bad plumbers and bad car mechanics and bad doctors; just like there are people using mechanized scooters who drive drunk or people cheating to get disability insurance. Is the solution greater regulation? Has greater regulation ever solved a problem like you’ve described? Is the problem genuinely bad enough (again, NUMBERS) or is it a perception issue? Or is the solution leaving the regulation where it is and pushing better education? Those are the fundamental questions that must be answered before anybody starts taking away anybody else’s freedom, which has been so hard-fought and well won in the ADA.

          • LauraGr June 20, 2012 at 4:02 pm

            I have heard several people saying how they faked their dog as a service dog to get it on a plane, in a restaurant or someplace. No documentation is required and companies are not allowed to ask for it.

            I have heard of at least 5 incidences of fakes. And I do not know anyone at all that actually uses a service dog.

            There is a lack of credibility that comes from the lack of certification.

            I certainly don’t have answers but I do recognize a problem.

          • rufflyspeaking June 20, 2012 at 4:40 pm

            Yes, documentation and certification is NOT required. Requiring it is discriminatory in this country. I don’t need to show my ID to buy a pack of potato chips, so neither should a disabled person be asked to. I’d fight like the dickens against any type of mandatory certification.

          • KellyK June 20, 2012 at 7:08 pm

            This is a reply to LauraGr.

            My question about your experience would be how you know of those 5 incidents. Are they hearsay, or verifiable? And did anything bad happen as a result? Someone was a jerk and took their pet somewhere it shouldn’t be, but did that actually hurt anybody?

            There will always be fraud and people who skirt the rules, but it’s not always worth trying to stamp that out if the collateral damage is worse than the original problem.

          • rufflyspeaking June 20, 2012 at 4:05 pm

            I also want to specifically address the idea of bathing/grooming/cleanness. You say that you always bring a clean dog in, but then you say you bathe once a month. In our house, that’s a dog I apologize for the filthy state of. When I touch the coat of a dog who hasn’t been bathed for a month, no matter how often it’s brushed, I feel waxy dander and stiff body oil. We consider normal cleanliness a bath once a week, and Godric and Sammy are bathed after every public outing.

            Do you see where I am going? What is “courtesy” cleanliness? Who defines it? What if somebody is uncomfortable with a dog who has been unbathed more than two hours – do I have to be courteous to them too? Who says how often a dog must be washed to be politely clean? What shampoos are you allowed to use? How many hairs can be drifting to the floor? Do dogs need a skin scrape to be certified clear of mites? How much of a mite count do you allow? How about bacteria in the mouth or between the toes? What is allowed there?

            I’m not being ridiculous. Any time the government defines “clean,” those are exactly the numbers they spend years researching and then put into place as rules. Wander through the FDA food codes and you’ll see what I mean.

            The fact is that a service dog handler is responsible to keep their dog under control and to answer VERY minimal questions about their dog’s work or tasking. Any time you try to insist that they do more because it’s “nice” or “cultural” or “courteous,” you are discriminating against them, because average people are NOT required to do those things.

          • KellyK June 20, 2012 at 5:07 pm

            If a specific dog is visibly (or smell-ably, not that that’s a word) dirty, they can still be asked to leave. The fact that I’m not legally required to shower before running to the store doesn’t mean they can’t kick me out if I stink, or if I’m covered head to toe in mud. I think cleanliness is another “use the rules that are already there” situation.

          • rufflyspeaking June 20, 2012 at 5:19 pm

            Actually, I don’t think that’s true. The ADA publications specifically address smell and say that nobody can refuse a dog because of smell.

          • KellyK June 20, 2012 at 7:12 pm

            Okay, good to know. I would have assumed that would be considered non-discriminatory since a business could also kick out a non-disabled person with body odor or super-strong cologne.

            From an ADA brief: A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the animal is out of control and the animal’s owner does not take effective action to control it (for example, a dog that barks repeatedly during a movie) or (2) the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

            So, no, it looks like having a stinky dog is not a valid reason for the dog to be required to leave.

          • rufflyspeaking June 20, 2012 at 7:22 pm

            Right. I think it’s important to note that the handler has at least one chance to bring the dog back under control – we’ve all had moments where our dogs did something that seems totally out of character or that they forgot a rule. What’s important is the recovery from that and that the behavior is extinguished FAST.

            Right now Godric still has his “in training” ID on, because we don’t want to represent him as a full-blown SD (because he’s still young and still forgets that he can’t sniff stuff, though he’s fixing it very fast now that he’s out so often). In terms of protections the differences in this area (NH, MA, ME) are nil, because SDs in training have the same privileges as SDs. But we figure it is a good way to be clear that he IS working, but he might not yet be 100% proofed on those “under control” issues. In a seven-pound dog about the worst he can possibly do is lick a shoe, so there’s no threat, but we usually have to remind him 2-3 times during an outing that leave it means leave it, or that follow Mommy means right now. Once he’s down to zero to one times, we’ll take off the training ID.

          • Sheenar June 21, 2012 at 3:03 pm

            Once a month is how often his program says to bathe him. He lives inside and doesn’t get dirty. People are always complimenting me on how beautiful he is and how shiny his coat is.
            What I meant by keeping the dog clean is not to, for example, bring the dog into public after he’s just gone swimming in the lake and smells like the lake.
            The dog doesn’t have to look perfect, but should look well-cared for –not matted, visible dirt, etc.

            I think you’re missing the point I was trying to get across. I wasn’t saying any of this should be mandated by law. But courtesy is important. Remember that other people have rights too. Just like it is not required by law that one speak kindly to store employees –but you’ll be more likely to receive excellent service if you do. Same with SDs. It is not required by law that they be kept clean and well-groomed. It is not required by law that they wear anything identifying them as a SD. But it is helpful to have those things in place. It doesn’t hurt. So why argue against it?

          • Arria June 20, 2012 at 3:53 pm

            Addressing your points ruffly.

            1) Some businesses dont KNOW their rights to be able to ask a misbehaved dog leave. Even so some that do have refused to because of threat of suit. I personally have not seen 4 of the SD’s in my community, but they are there. They actually also see my therapist and she was the ONLY reason I learned about there being more than one other SD in town. It boils down to YOU need to educate the business, the public, and yourself.

            2) YES! You may not see it, but you are one in 700 million Americans. You live in ONE of THOUSANDS of cities in the US alone. Just because you dont SEE a problem does not mean that problem is not there my dear.

            3) YES they do actually. Remember that the ADA is in place as part of a REASONABLE ACCOMODATION. A dog is a reasonable accomodation. A store being disability friendly in the end is a reasonable accomodation. If that dog is not groomed and shakes dirt all over produce, a person getting sick from that particular produce, store gets sued. Ultimately it boils down to THAT dog spread the infection from not being clean. Furthermore, dog fur carries allergens easily. A dirty dog is going to have not only its own dander but also dust and pollen. Its going to set off people’s allergies. Its going to make people think even more negatively of people with disabilities.

            Those people who were just offended by that dirty dog go to their legislators and those legislators negatively impact the laws and the ADA. Poof goes public access for service dogs. Poof goes MANY disabled peoples ability to be independent.

            Crap rolls downhill and gossip spreads fast. A dog who is doing public access NEEDS to be groomed and kept at least somewhat clean for the safety of public and for us as PWD who use a SD to be able to continue to have our rights. Ya we need to stand up for our rights, but we also need to provide the best representation we can or our selfish actions affect EVERYONE!

          • rufflyspeaking June 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm

            1) No, I don’t need to educate the business, the public, or anyone else. That requirement is discriminatory because it’s not required of a nondisabled person.

            2) Good decisions are based on numbers, effects, and consequences. Is the problem of “fake” service dogs or SD/handler teams one that rises to the level of needing to be addressed? The only people I’ve ever heard complain about it are SD handlers. Is it really such an epidemic? Without data, no good decisions can be made.

            3) What bacteria could a dog carry on his coat that could contaminate produce THAT WOULD BE RELIABLY AND DEMONSTRABLY ELIMINATED BY PERIODIC BATHING? That’s the key here. Do dogs have bacteria on them? Sure. So does everybody in the world, and there is no requirement that people wash their hands before touching produce; it is also not a common courtesy. Can you tell me the name of an infectious agent that would be present on a dog who had not been bathed this month but would not be present on the same dog if it was brushed yesterday? Can you point me to any suits or case law? Also, a dog has dander immediately after drying off. Dander allergies are very specifically addressed in the EEOC rules and are NOT a basis for excluding a dog.

            4) People who are “offended” are not allowed to change disability, privacy, or exposure laws. I can walk topless, offend thousands of people, and tough for them. The law specifically protects me. Thankfully, “offended” isn’t grounds for disability case law.

            Insisting that a dog be ANYTHING but what is specifically spelled out in the ADA regulations IS DISCRIMINATORY AND ILLEGAL. If it doesn’t apply to an average or nondisabled person, it cannot apply to a disabled person.

          • KellyK June 20, 2012 at 5:11 pm

            To point #1, it’s everyone’s job to educate *themselves* about the laws that either protect them or require them to behave a certain way. The EEOC publishes this information. It’s up to the small business to find out what the law is and educate themselves, not to expect a disabled person to do it for them.

          • Arria June 20, 2012 at 6:30 pm

            So what your saying is WHEN you get thrown out of a business since YOU refused to try and be civil, polite, and offer to do a good deed that YOU will be the reason the DOJ won’t have the funds to help ME get compensated for my medical bills from an employee attacking me in a store. How very very thoughtful of you.

            YOU ARE NOT REPRESENTING JUST YOU! Please bother to figure it out or remove yourself from PA as I have a right not to be harassed by you, including via a third party that you went into before I did and let your UNTRAINED “service dog” make it impossible for anyone else to be able to “enjoy” the same service.

            YOUR ATTITUDE is what causes ALL OF US to be discriminated against

          • rufflyspeaking June 20, 2012 at 6:55 pm

            My daughter in no way “represents” disabled people. That’s kind of a nauseating thought, actually. Women don’t have to act a certain way in order to “represent” women in a way that makes everybody feel warm and fuzzy and unthreatened. Individuals of various ethnicities do not have to act more polite so that everybody thinks nice thoughts about their ethnicity. The entire purpose of the protections the ADA (or EEOC, or any other agency that addresses a protected group) puts into place is so that you do NOT have to act differently, get different results, or have less access, than the average or nonprotected group.

            When we’re out in public with the dogs, we ensure that they are incredibly clean, in obvious vesting, with patches, on leash at all times, and so on. But that is a PERSONAL CHOICE WE MAKE. Nobody should EVER imply that we are therefore a “better” disabled family than someone who comes in with a dog who is not freshly washed, is unvested, with no patches, and off leash (but under control).

            If PA is Pennsylvania, we’ve never lived there so you’re safe from us :). But that doesn’t change the fact that you cannot discriminate against a disabled person with a dog, including expecting behavior that is not expected from an average person.

          • KellyK June 20, 2012 at 6:53 pm

            No, that’s not even on the same planet as anything that I’m saying. I’m not sure where you’re getting it, but the hostility is really unwarranted. So, for that matter, is the assumption that I’m running around being uncivil and making you look bad, when I neither have a service dog nor live in PA.

            All I said was that it’s people’s job to educate themselves about their own legal obligations and protections. That’s it.

          • Arria June 28, 2012 at 10:47 pm

            PA meaning Public Access. I travel across the country with my dad while I am looking for a job. I do have a service dog.

            I am saying that those who dont take the two seconds it takes to hand a copy of the ADA business brief to a store employee or the two seconds to explain the federal laws allow for discrimination to happen. Immensely

            Perfect instance. I was in Indiana a week ago and was grossly discriminated against and almost pushed into a panic attack because of a security guard. The cop would NOT take my statement because of the security guard. The reason they took this stance? The security guard didn’t like the idea of a dog in the store, SD or not because of someone who had let their small “SD” piddle on the floor not three hours before hand and then refused to clean it up giving the excuse she couldnt bend over. But she bent over and picked the dog up just fine.

            I have since worked with both the law enforcement office, and the business that this happened at and settled things. But its a perfect instance of someone who was faking having a service dog, the business not wanting to get sued, and thus causing a VERY hard time for the next person. I didnt have the option of going somewhere else for the service they provided since I had already put their gas in my vehicle.

            But because of someone elses actions, I was unable to enjoy that business’ services. Hence my point of you as a SD handler setting a precedence.

          • Mary K January 13, 2013 at 9:22 pm

            Addressing point #1: Yes, businesses ARE training their staff to avoid litigation. My son works security at a major retail chain. He was told explicitly to avoid contact with handlers with dogs, and that he couldn’t even ask them if the dog was a service dog. He isn’t even supposed to confront a handler with a misbehaving dog. I’m not sure what he is supposed to do if a dog is misbehaving to the extent that other customers feel unsafe. I know that he has to tell customers who complain that service dogs ARE allowed in the store.

  • Reply LauraGr June 20, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    The public attitude is fairly easy to understand, even if it is incorrect. Most people will assume a service dog is like a handicapped parking placard. You go to the Doctor, you get a diagnosis, you go to the DMV and get a special placard and then are allowed to park in the reserved spaces if you have it showing. We are taught to disdain those that “cheat” and use the spaces without authorization.

    For a long time, only blind people used seeing guide dogs. And it was fairly obvious that the guide was disabled. Now it is not obvious at all.

    Times, they are a’changing.

    • Reply rufflyspeaking June 20, 2012 at 2:48 pm

      And that’s a great thing! I think that the educational effort has to be that these dogs are a way of helping a disabled person live in an average world. They’re not weird or special or privileged, any more than somebody who goes and gets a knee replacement is weird or special or privileged. If you have a disability, you should have a wide range of options available to you – therapy (whether physical or emotional), medications (pain, immune, psych, or any combinations of any class of drugs), and assistance tools (wheelchair, walker, crutches, human assistance, dog, horse). You have the right to pick and choose what works for you, and all are equally normal and equally protected.

  • Reply kerri reid and sophie June 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    When you talk about the dog not needing to know commands like sit and stay and down this confuses me. As these are very very basic commands used to communicate with your dog. Some of it comes down to safety. How do you keep your dog from darting out in front of a car to chase a ball if they dont have an emergency drop command? And how are you going to maneuver a medium to large dog in a tight spot at a grocery store without some basic commands? And yes an SD needs to be able to be wiyh strangers ehat happens if your daughter is in a car accident and the SD must be transported to the vet or somewhere by someone other then you or your daughter? An SD should be able to be away from its handler and vice versa due to unexpected seperations that WILL happen throughout a partnership and a PWD should be able to cope with their disability at least for short periods of times using other skills then the dog. I have had DDs for over 15 years and i prefer to have my SD to. But i know if she gets sick i have other ways of coping. My dog is cross trained for several disabilities. Also doing daily obedience practice with my dog working on sit stay down ect. Is another thing that bonds us together snd she enjoys. I am just super confused by your number9 9 maybe you could explain it to me your saying SDs dont need basic communication

    • Reply rufflyspeaking June 20, 2012 at 4:33 pm

      My dogs DO know those commands. But they are not required (and cannot be required) to have a dog be a service dog.

      Many service dogs are not medium to large. Service dogs stay with the owner in a car accident (this happened to us quite recently; Sammy was transported in the ambulance to the hospital with Honour). If they are injured enough to need vet care, then all bets are off in terms of behavior and commands. I’d never expect even the most gorgeously trained dog to be perfect if they’re injured, and neither would a vet.

      There is no requirement that a person with a disability be able to get along without any tool they need. Nobody says that a person who uses a wheelchair had better figure out how to get along without it.

      A service dog has ONE AND ONLY ONE definition. I know I keep beating this drum, but any time you try to add to that definition and place more requirements on it, you are being discriminatory against the disabled person.

    • Reply KellyK June 20, 2012 at 5:19 pm

      It’s not that those aren’t good and useful things; it’s that they aren’t part of the legal definition and can’t be required. It would probably be rare to find a service dog that can’t do those things, but if I discover tomorrow that my pet dog can perform a task that helps me with my anxiety disorder (assuming that counts as a disability, I would think it would), I could, legally, start taking her places where that would be useful, right then. I wouldn’t be obligated to have her pass a CGC test or meet a checklist of behavior criteria, even if all of those might be useful things that I decide I should do.

    • Reply Laura June 21, 2012 at 11:07 am

      I would like to point out a very specific example of why requiring a service dog to do a specific series of commands could actually be HARMFUL to the working partnership.

      Billy is my service dog. He is trained (and in training, training never stops) to help me with mental health symptoms as well as my balance and mobility problems. Billy belonged to someone else before he came to live with me. That person rewarded him heavily for sitting. He was also rewarded heavily for standing in a show stance. I retrained and worked with him to teach him that he should ONLY sit on cue. The problem here is that when he sits, he pulls the balance handle of his harness out of my hand and usually topples me over. I generally fall on him. Billy only sits now when he gets confused because that used to be his ‘go to’ behavior. He does it very infrequently and I know to be aware that it might happen in situations he hasn’t seen yet. We are training him out of it and giving him a new ‘go to’ behavior.

      For our partnership, requiring us to have a ‘sit’ command could actually do more harm than good, and in most cases with mobility dogs, a sit command is not trained for this very reason.

      There are also many dogs to whom sitting is uncomfortably or even impossible. I have an acquaintance with a borzoi service dog. Her borzoi is so narrow in the hips and so large in body that after he was about 8 months old he could not sit without falling over. If his handler props him up he can sit, but is very uncomfortable with it.

      I use a few specific commands to maneuver my dog through the world.

      ‘Forward’ – walk forward in a strait line
      ‘Walk up’ – go faster I will sometimes cluck at him like one does with a horse
      ‘Left’ – turn about 45 degrees left and continue walking (I will say ‘ Left Left’ for a 90 degree turn and sometimes use a hand gesture if the turn is unclear)
      ‘Right’ – same as left, but right
      ‘Touch’ – touch my hand with your nose and follow it (great for getting him into position)
      ‘Back’ – move backward
      ‘Come Around’ – move back into heel position
      ‘Heel’ – drop back so your head (not shoulder for us) is at my leg and follow me (Billy’s normal working position is slightly ahead of me so that I can use his harness to maintain my balance while walking)
      ‘Go through’ – go between me and an obstacle (usually a door that I am propping open) and move ahead so I can follow
      ‘Under’ – squeeze under something and get out of the way
      ‘Leave it’ – stop whatever you are doing and look at me
      ‘Look’ – direct eye contact
      ‘Front’ – stand in front of me cross wise with your head by my right hand
      ‘Post’ – same deal but behind me and pressed against my legs
      ‘Settle’ – make yourself comfortable and stay in this general area, we are going to be here for a while
      ‘Place’ – emergency drop command
      ‘Stay’ – stay there, I’m going to step away from you for a moment, if I don’t return in a few min, come and get me, I’ve probably fallen and need your help.

      So I use all these commands (except Place) every time we leave the house. Should EVERY service dog use those commands every time too?

  • Reply Roxann Hamilton, M.Ed., CWRAPF, COLTC, CSIS, CPSWS, June 20, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    I go to many dog shows as a spectator and admirer! My connections are with the Herd Dogs: specfically Belgian Tervurens. A well known AKC Judge and breed specific behaviorist and I have frequently discussed the issue of show dog handlers faking that their dogs that are being flown to and from shows are “Service Dogs” because they don’t what their dogs to travel crated in cargo – or where ever they put dogs during flights – and they do not want to pay for the additional seat. The owners simply put a back pack on from PetCo or a vest from Active Dogs with a few patches from ebay listings and claim “Service Dog”

    About your belief a Service Dog does not have to have mastered basic obedience: I may hav misunderstood you, but the basic obedience all pets should have (sit, down, 100% housebroken, non-aggressive, quiet, stop, off, leave it, walking at a heel position on the left or right on a loose lead) are even moreso important for a Service Dog! It is a matter of respect and safety for the public, as well as one’s self and one’s Service Dog.

    Most of your commentary is absolutely fantastic and I enjoyed it tremendously! However, there are areas – especially regarding personal responsibilities and what the laws actually say and mean are a tad off target. If you are interested, I would be willing to share a really superb group with you that could help bring you up to speed on those issues!

    Best of Luck to you!

    • Reply rufflyspeaking June 20, 2012 at 4:54 pm

      Roxann – yes, I’ve heard that story. I have no idea who it was supposed to be or which dog; I can tell you that lots of details don’t make sense (the owner is always responsible for air fare, not the handler, so the handler has no benefit in that equation; most handlers who would be flying dogs travel with many more than one dog; etc.) but I have no hard data so I can’t say anything. I would suspect that nobody does have that data.

      Whether or not it’s useful to have a dog with those behaviors, it has no bearing on whether or not the dog is a legally protected service dog. I think it is very useful to have a wheelchair with the correct wheel ratios and good construction, but it doesn’t stop being a wheelchair if it doesn’t have those things. I have no responsibility to the public to make sure my wheelchair has correct wheel ratios and good construction. If it mitigates my disability, I may use it. Similarly, if a service dog does work or tasks that mitigate my disability and he or she is under control in public, it is protected. Period.

      • Reply Kris June 20, 2012 at 5:24 pm

        You have contradicted yourself again and again. And you have just done it once more in this statement here. In a previous statement you said that you have not heard of anyone faking SD in the show world that you have come across. And in this statement here you say that you have heard of it before. So which one is it? I find you not a very credible person in your arguments when you can’t even keep your own story straight.

        In the argument concerning basic obedience being required for SD work. Those commands are something that every suitable SD should know. A dog cannot safely go out into public and be dependable without knowing certain basic commands. And making the wheelchair or walker or cane arguement is unsubstantial because do any of those things bite? Do any of those things bark? Do any of those things have a mind of their own? Do any of those things move on their own? These are some of the reasons why you can’t compair a SD to these other things because they do not relate. And exactly why it is vital that a SD has STRONG and EXTENSIVE obedience training

        • Reply rufflyspeaking June 20, 2012 at 5:35 pm

          I said I had never seen anyone doing it. That’s absolutely true. There’s an urban legend, been floating for years, that I believe to be untrustworthy. I have never heard a name, date, or data attached to it. I’ve never seen anyone getting any benefit from a chain letter, though there’s an active and thriving legend around them.

          You have an opinion that SDs should have strong (whatever that means) and extensive (again, whatever that means) obedience training. The US government does not. Thankfully, disabled people are protected by the latter, not the former.

          • August Wilson June 20, 2012 at 8:26 pm

            And who is protecting the child who is bitten or killed by the claimed service dog? You are so eager to claim your daughter’s rights, why is it that you could care less about anyone else’s rights?

          • rufflyspeaking June 21, 2012 at 12:11 am

            I’m honestly not sure how this applies – service dogs must be under control. A service dog who attacks is manifestly not under control.

          • Kris June 21, 2012 at 12:45 am

            And how is a SD kept under control? By good solid obedience training. They absolutely cannot be good dependable and SAFE SDs without obedience. PERIOD!

          • rufflyspeaking June 21, 2012 at 1:03 am

            No, dogs are kept under control when they obey. Training certain sets of commands has nothing to do with it. Some SDs need a thoroughly proofed sit, stay, long down, heel, etc. to do their jobs. Others need forward, right, left, pick it up, bring it. Still others need get a human, get my medication, paw me, speak, etc. You do not have to present a dog who could get a CD, or in fact a dog who knows ANY of that vocabulary, in order for that dog to be a well-trained working service dog.

          • KellyK June 21, 2012 at 7:45 am

            A small dog can also be under control physically. (A dog who has an iffy stay or an imperfect “leave it” but is being carried is still under control.)

            “Under control” does not mean a specific set of behaviors, or that the dog delivers an OTCH-worthy performance in the grocery store. It means they don’t bark in situations where it’s inappropriate (eg. a movie), get into things, or inappropriately approach people.

            Heck, my pet dog has no real concept of what “stay” even means. (We’re working on it, but not there yet.) Nor does she walk in a formal heel position. And yet she never causes a problem when I take her to places dogs are allowed, like pet stores or the vet’s office. She’s not barking or pulling treats off the shelf or jumping on people. A service dog with similar training gaps would certainly meet the legal definition of “under control.”

          • Allison Ward June 27, 2012 at 5:33 pm

            Not an urban legend….I do have an acquaintence who purchased a vest, put it on her agility Border Collie and claimed the dog was a SD so she would not have to fly the dog in cargo. This irritates me…as a rule follower and as a puppy raiser to two successful dog guides. I don’t want the laws to be tightened up for SD users so I don’t like to see the situation taken advantage of. I have only flown my dog once, to Eukenuba and I followed the rules and checked him into cargo much to my discomfort.

          • Meagan R. July 24, 2012 at 4:14 am

            Commands does not equal training. I hate to butt into this conversation, but this is something that truly irks me. For example, many schutzhund dogs I know don’t know any commands at all – usually only come and *maybe* sit – to not “ruin” their drive as puppies. Instead they learn boundaries, right from wrong, and learn to obey this set. They do not know how to sit, but they also know not to put their paws up on anything. They do not know how to heel, but they know not to rush up to strangers. I’ve known an ample amount of dogs with 3 commands on their “known” list that are FAR better trained than that person with the terror who just so happens to know 50 commands but not a single rule.

            Being “under control” is far different than knowing commands. Period. It would be impossible to regulate this under law.

  • Reply Beth June 20, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this! Prior to discovering your blog, I hadn’t really given any though to service dogs and their owners (we don’t see many in the area I live in). I was so touched to read about how Ginny helped Honour and your family. These dogs do such great things for their people.
    Give Honour and Sammy and Godric a hug for me!

    As a side note, according to Penni Adrian, the CWCCA bulletin that’s coming out this fall is going to have an article on cardigans as service dogs.

  • Reply Mike June 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    It’s interesting how many people want to bitch about things that don’t concern them. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, if you operate a business it’s your job to know the law. For the person crying about the evil dog and the produce, you are far more likely to contract something from the produce than anything left on it by a dog.Here’s a little tip for you, wash your produce. Are you now going to ban people from going into the store that are sick? good job enforcing that.

  • Reply Debra June 20, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    I have worked in the field of special education for 25 years and am always amazed that so many people feel that individuals with disabilities have to perform in a certain way to “earn” their place in society. I’m happy that Honour and your family have a service dog helpful. I loved reading about Ginny and was so sad when she passed away. I would love to her more about Godric’s and Sammy’s training and how they assist Honour in her day-to-day activities.

    • Reply rufflyspeaking June 21, 2012 at 5:07 am

      Thank you!

      I will ask Honour if it’s OK to talk about specifics. Many times it’s not, but sometimes she feels OK about it. If I can, I’ll post a day-in-the-life sometime.

  • Reply Beth June 20, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    I do know someone, personally, whose mother just faked her dog being a service dog in order to be allowed to fly on the plane across country, just the other day. Ironic that it’s been mentioned. The dog is actually a comfort dog, not a service dog. People may say “What’s the harm?” but the fact is I also know people who are mortally afraid of dogs, and to force people to be enclosed in a plane with one when the dog is not actually working is morally problematic. Basically, it’s saying “The fact that my dog gives me comfort is more important than the fact that my dog terrifies you.” Again, for a dog who is working it’s a different matter, but faking is a problem and it’s unfair to everyone.

    I have read up on this since your last post and found, for instance, that restaurants must allow service dogs (as they should) but are not required to allow them on a seat or table (which is reasonable). Grocery stores must allow them (as they should) but don’t have to allow them in a cart. They must be allowed in a hospital but it’s surgeon’s discretion to limit what areas they access if there is a health risk. And so on. It’s not as black-and-white as you say. I think there are lots of shades of grey. I do think that it is very important for people to self-police; as mentioned above, if they don’t and something bad happens, legislation will happen as a result. In the past it was a non-issue because most service dogs came from schools and had the highest levels of training. As the fields the dogs cover expands, we are seeing more and more home-trained dogs and the standards are inconsistent, compared to the seeing-eye dogs of yore.

    As someone who has a very noticeable disability (I have a severe form of arthritis and have not been able to move my neck since I was 29 years old), I must say that ADA’s protections are quite weak. Places must provide “reasonable accommodation” but what I think of as reasonable is often NOT considered reasonable by an employer. I’ve seen more than one person let go from a job over minor issues that common sense would say should be accommodated, and no lawyer will touch the case because the law is so vague and the chance of winning so slim. For instance, one woman with anxiety attacks was let go over calling ahead to be 15 minutes late two or three times a month. They said they could not accommodate that. Another was told that his company could not adjust to his coming in an hour or so late and making up the time later in the day, several times a month, due to the fact that his arthritis was worst in the morning and some days he had trouble moving.

    The language on service animals is similarly vague and I agree that it’s super important that people with service animals maintain high self-standards so that no one starts laying out the rules for them. With rights come responsibilities. That’s true for all of us, and without that society fails to function.

    • Reply rufflyspeaking June 21, 2012 at 12:10 am

      I actually think you might have read something incorrect about those rules – the ADA regs do not make any statement about chairs or shopping carts. You may have read someone’s opinion or interpretation, but that’s not DOJ wording. ADA rules always trump state regs where the state regs are less accommodating (just in case you read it in a state website somewhere).

      Martha already answered about ESAs on planes.

      What you describe in your third paragraph is not the weakness of the ADA; it’s employers flouting the law. The EEOC is the place to appeal, if you can’t get a lawyer to take it.

      And I could not disagree more that any protected class “needs” to self-police. That’s a horrible, horrible expectation. Should LGBT individuals dress a certain way so everybody likes them? The existing language clearly indicates that the dog must be in the control of the handler. That’s enough. Anything above that stigmatizes the handler. It’s not like the DOJ didn’t contemplate this as recently as 2009. It heard from lots of people who wanted vests and certification and so on. And it said, unequivocally, NO.

      • Reply Beth June 21, 2012 at 7:19 am

        1) What I read in numerous places is that ADA neither protects nor denies the right to be in a cart, on a table, etc. It’s up to the business owner’s interpretation of the law and there is no legal guarantee that someone would be forced to allow a dog on a table, for instance. The advice pieces I have read suggest working with the business owner in those cases. For instance, putting a mat in the cart may placate an owner concerned with sanitation.

        2) Yes, and it’s questionable whether this dog (a puppy) is a comfort dog. It’s a long story but basically she did not want to leave him behind. And once here, yes they took him into stores that only allow service dogs (which he is not). Simply relating a story because you said you heard of no one faking it and I have a first-hand and recent example.

        For your last point, since I expect all groups and individuals to behave with their own needs and rights AND the consideration of others in mind, then I no I’m not stigmatizing. More on that in my bottom post. Basically I mostly agree with Martha in this discussion. Look, we have the right to travel as we wish, but if everyone started going every which way on crowded side walks and there were collisions and people pushing and falling, they would make lanes on the sidewalks the same as they do on the roads. They don’t have to because MOST (not all) people self-police; they walk to the right, they pass on the left, etc. Enough people do the right thing to keep traffic in busy areas more or less moving. In areas where people historically don’t behave with the consideration of others in mind, they bring in police and security and barriers and the like. ALL OF US every day self-police our actions to keep society running smoothly. I’m not sure how it’s stigmatizing to expect the same of any individual group.

        • Reply rufflyspeaking June 21, 2012 at 8:24 am

          The ADA is silent on a huge number of those tiny issues; the paradigm you apply is whether it is a reasonable accommodation that doesn’t disrupt the essential nature of your business. Anywhere the public would normally be allowed, a service dog is allowed. Having a dog on a seat would be a reasonable accommodation. Having the dog on the tabletop is more arguable; it would depend on whether the disabled person could be accommodated in a different way with equal benefit. If the dog is trained to lift a fork to a person’s lips, it needs to be on the tabletop and there’s no other reasonable accommodation you could offer. If not, you as a business owner are free to offer an alternative.

          A street photographer is protected as he bobs and weaves in and among crowds of people, including snapping flash photos of them right in their faces. So are the guy with the End of the World placard, the loiterers, the buskers, and so on. If any interventions were made (by police, for example) that took away the right of speech and assembly and movement from any of those people without similarly tasking the general public, or asked any protected class to act differently than everyone else was required to act, it’s discriminatory.

          • lisa June 21, 2012 at 11:47 am

            My dog is by no means a service dog. However, after years and years of never sleeping without nightmares, she—helps? lets? encourages? makes possible?—for me to sleep soundly. I don’t know how. I do know that it happens….so comfort dogs are a real and often necessary assistance. Don’t knock it til you’ve been there.

          • Roxann Hamilton, M.Ed., CWRAPF, COLTC, CSIS, CPSWS, June 22, 2012 at 12:51 am

            Dogs that are for comfort are addressed by the DOJ: there are excluded from the status of Service Dog. Because they perform no trained tasks. They are excluded from all places a Service Dog goes/is other than pet friendly places where pets are welcome, flying inside the cabin of an airplane, and in housing.

          • lisa June 22, 2012 at 10:46 am

            I didn’t train my dog to nudge me and keep me from having screaming nightmares. I don’t have a “disability” because sleeping isn’t a major life activity, I guess, and I don’t need to take Latte with me in public everywhere to make sure I get enough sleep to function. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t perform work….after 25 years of PTSD induced nightmares, she most certainly does “work” by allowing me to sleep. Ask the hotel owners/staff who have banged on my door because “someone was screaming” or my children who used to tell friends “that’s just Mom, she has bad dreams, don’t worry.”

            You canNOT narrowly define the tasks a dog must do to include handing me my socks from the floor or taking off my jacket: both thing we do because we were bored in a blizzard one day.

            And I find that the emphasis on training and licensure usually comes from those with a financial interest in same. Service dog training is a decent business these days: someone told me it was going to cost them $30k that they didn’t have to get a service dog. Since most of the trainers I know work as volunteers, that is totally and completely ridiculous.

          • Laura June 23, 2012 at 12:14 pm

            Sleeping as actually considered a major life activity, as it impacts one’s ability to function as an average human. I know it is listed as one of my life impairments on some state forms.

            I have PTSD and both of my dogs (one retired service dog, one in the advanced stages of training as a service dog) are trained to wake me from nightmares, turn on the lights if I ask, and lay against me to facilitate grounding. Billy is also trained to help me by laying along my back as I fall asleep to help me feel less vulnerable. He has become the adult version of pulling the blankets over my head.

            If the only thing my dogs did for me was related to the disturbances in my sleep, I would still count them as service dogs. I probably wouldn’t bring them with me everywhere I went, but I would travel with at least one of them.

            I am not encouraging you to run out and get a vest for your dog tomorrow, but I am sharing with you a thought.

    • Reply KellyK June 21, 2012 at 7:51 am

      People may say “What’s the harm?” but the fact is I also know people who are mortally afraid of dogs, and to force people to be enclosed in a plane with one when the dog is not actually working is morally problematic.

      Depending on the size and the airline, pet dogs can be brought on a plane too. There may be an extra fee or an additional seat purchase, but a number of airlines allow small dogs and cats in the passenger compartment. If someone is mortally afraid of dogs, they need to talk to the flight attendant about being seated away from the dog, whether it’s a pet, a therapy dog, or a service dog.

  • Reply Beth June 20, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    I’m curious about this: how come you need some sort of ID/plates/placard to use a handicapped parking space but not a service dog? And why is it ok to require people to need that, yet odious somehow to ask people to have some sort of identification for service dogs? It would seem to me to be a double standard.

    • Reply rufflyspeaking June 21, 2012 at 12:20 am

      Car plates are permission to park somewhere. They are not permission to be disabled. You don’t have to get one if you are disabled; you can drive a regular car and never get the plates, and that doesn’t remove your disability. Placards identify a car, not an individual, and they don’t travel with that individual. A better analogy to IDing a service dog would be requiring everyone who takes a psychotropic drug to wear a big sign, or everyone with epilepsy to wear a certain hat. It’s stigmatizing.

      • Reply Roxann Hamilton, M.Ed., CWRAPF, COLTC, CSIS, CPSWS, June 21, 2012 at 12:38 am

        Using a Service Dog is not a permission to be disabled either! The hang tags for Handicap Parking are portable with the individual they are assigned to to be used in any vehicle they are a passenger in or a driver of. One does not have to get and use a Servce Dog either. It is also stigmatizing to use Handicap Plates or Handicap hang tags. It is very stigmatizing using a Service Dog.

        • Reply rufflyspeaking June 21, 2012 at 2:05 am

          What Beth was saying is that you’re required to have a plate or a hang tag to use handicapped parking, so you should have to have whatever the equivalent of the plate or hang tag would be to use a service dog.

          Those two things, however, are totally different. A plate or hang tag is there to give you permission to park in certain spaces. No more, no less. It doesn’t “certify” you as being disabled according to the ADA, and it doesn’t offer you any accommodations beyond parking. Hang tags and plates have MUCH tighter requirements than the broad definition of disability, and they do not stay with the person when the person is out of the car they’re using.

          A disability mitigating tool, whether a dog or a wheelchair or medications or counseling or any of the scores of others, cannot be required to publicly identify the person as having a particular disability and cannot create a stigmatizing situation for public access. You don’t have to get a big sign for your wheelchair that says you have spinal stenosis; you don’t have to wear a jacket that says you’re taking klonopin; you don’t have to have a vest, ID, or certification for your service dog.

          • Roxann Hamilton, M.Ed., CWRAPF, COLTC, CSIS, CPSWS, June 21, 2012 at 3:08 am

            Hang tags and plates have the requirement of being disabled and a MD has to determine that.

            Using a handicappd parking space is a mitigating measure for a disabled person. There is nothing which says what kind of disability one has. PWDs are putting patches on their dogs loudly proclaiming what their disability is!

            Again, using a SD is indeed a stigma, just as is a limp, walker, or wheelchair. All are used for profiling. Using a hang tag is also a stigma.

            There is no certification as of yet, but it is in the offing!

          • rufflyspeaking June 21, 2012 at 4:45 am

            Hang tags and plates have the requirement of having a VERY NARROW range of injuries and disabilities. In my state those are “walking disabilities” and include very short-term conditions; in others they are called mobility or have other words attached to them. You can be legally (ADA) disabled and not qualify for a hang tag or plate; you can qualify for a hang tag or plate and not be ADA disabled. A close parking space MAY be a mitigating measure for an ADA disabled person, but that is not its only function.

            A person with a service dog may choose to do whatever they want with their personal space, whether patch on their dog or t-shirt on their own back. But they cannot be required to announce any medical information to anybody in the public.

            I have not seen any hard evidence that certification is “in the offing.” I sincerely hope that the service dog community fights mandatory certification if the notion ever comes up (it seems that the DOJ is firmly against it as well, which is good). Disallowing owner-chosen and owner-trained dogs will effectively remove the possibility of service dogs from a huge swath of the disabled population. Not only do agencies increase the cost and difficulty and waiting period for a dog, for a lot of disabled people they simply don’t work. The range of disabilities, and the unique features of those disabilities (particularly the psychiatric ones) mean that it would be impossible for a training certification to adequately meet every need. You would in effect be discriminating against those disabled people who don’t have a more common or easily defined disability.

            If I can use Honour as an example, she would not be able to use an agency-trained dog. Period. No matter how good a job they did. If the dog had lived with or been physically handled by another person in the context of its service training, it would be contaminated forever and could never provide her the sense of “clean” she relies on. She MUST have a sense of safety, and safety for her comes from exclusion. There are many other kids and adults who have similar (but not identical – each psych disability is very much its own thing) manifestations of OCD and cannot touch or feel comfortable with “used” tools. People with unique allergies must train their own dogs (sometimes with help, but an agency can’t do the whole job). People with seizure disorders often must select and train their own dog, if their seizure fingerprint isn’t the same as everyone else’s.

          • lisa June 21, 2012 at 11:51 am

            Nope. A handicapped parking permit certifies that you cannot walk a certain distance without extreme difficulty. In the clinic where I worked, we were always having to explain this narrow definition to someone. They can be given to non-“disabled” people with an injury and then are time limited. Most people who receive some sort of disability pay don’t qualify.

          • Guide dog user June 21, 2012 at 2:42 pm

            I have a “blue man” placard, but I do not drive, and I can walk just fine. So why do I have one? Because I have been almost run over by inattentive drivers in parking lots. Being a guide dog user, I do qualify for the placard for my safety. It has nothing to do with ” A handicapped placard certifies that you cannot walk a certain distance without extreme difficulty”. Many types of disabilities qualify a person for a placard, it is up to the Motor Vehicle department and the persons treating physician to determine eligibility.
            Thank you.

          • lisa June 22, 2012 at 10:50 am

            This should really go below, but: In the state I’m in, the forms that we had to fill out didn’t give us that option. There were clearly limited conditions that qualified one for the placard. Almost getting run over wasn’t one of them, though it probably should have been.

      • Reply Beth June 21, 2012 at 7:12 am

        First of all, don’t you think it’s stigmatizing to drive around with a handicapped license plate (which many people have?). And second of all, the tag would go on the dog and could be discreet.

        If you are in a place that does not allow any animals except service dogs, and you have a dog, everyone would presume it’s a service dog anyway. A lot of the protections work are because service dogs were traditionally rare and trained to the max. If dogs continue to operate at that standard, the protections will remain as they are. If there start to be more conflicts and problems, then the standard will probably change.

        • Reply rufflyspeaking June 21, 2012 at 8:45 am

          It’s a lovely new law that you’ve cooked up :). So now the tag has to go on the dog? How would it be presented to a business owner, then? How would it not violate the current ADA law that says a public access business owner MAY NEVER ask a person to identify his or her disability and may not even ask if the person HAS a disability if there is any obvious sign thereof?

          And how is it not discriminatory? If Honour is on three kinds of anti-anxiety meds, she does not have to register with the state and carry a tag around her neck telling business owners that she is allowed to be in their store. She should not have to publicly identify for any other tool either. There is absolutely no reason for a business owner to need to go beyond what is already spelled out; they may ask if the dog is a service dog and they may remove them if they are out of control.

          • Beth June 21, 2012 at 10:19 am

            The parking sticker requirement is there to protect disabled people’s access to those spots. Why? Because otherwise LOTS of non-disabled people would use them.

            In the past, no one claimed their dog was a service dog if he was not because most service dogs were seeing eye dogs. Now that service dogs do all sorts of not-so-obvious tasks, it is very easy to claim you have a service dog when you don’t.

            In certain locations (not my own) there is apparently an actual problem with this. If the problem spreads, it will be addressed by requiring some sort of documentation, to protect people (like your daughter) with real service dogs.

            The tag would not have to say what someone’s disability is, anymore than a handicapped parking tag currently does. It would simply validate that the dog is a real service dog.

            Again, if non-disabled people don’t abuse the current laws, there will be no need to change them. But if they do abuse it, there will be a need, not to stigmatize but to protect people with real working dogs. Just like with parking stickers, which absolutely do not require you to state what your disability is.

          • Roxann Hamilton, M.Ed., CWRAPF, COLTC, CSIS, CPSWS, June 22, 2012 at 1:00 am

            Excellent explanation, Beth. I very much agree with your observation and position.

          • Laura June 27, 2012 at 3:56 pm

            It is bad enough that my doctor, my doctor’s staff and anyone that wants to look into my cabinet can “see” and “guess” what is wrong with me . . . and decide what I should do to “cure” myself of my various emotional “issues” . Medications are not all that private — and neither is therapy in a small town 🙂

            So, the idea of wearing tags other than my medic alert bracelet which is very basically worded; should I need emergancy help is like asking me to go back in time to when anyone who wasn’t societies idea of PERFECT was shunned.

            Well, maybe we are still there? That is one of the reasons I don’t have a Psy. S.D. . . . too many questions from too many people.

            Thanks for this topic, it is raw, ruff, and thanks all of you who disagree, we discuss to learn and grow. Just try and listen to both sides and consider wearing a label of some sort on your head or back every day . . . This person cannot stop eating chocolate or this person needs to loose weight or this person needs to gain weight or whatever….take blood pressure pills. . .

            Would you want something private posted on your outside all the time???

      • Reply KellyK June 21, 2012 at 10:28 pm

        Another thing with car permits is that they stay with the car when you leave it. They’re the only way the guy in the parking lot who’s enforcing the traffic rules has to know if you’re allowed to use that spot.

        Service dogs are not the same, because they stay with you. This gives people an opportunity to verify that they are service dogs and find out what they do for you, when they can’t very well track you down in a mall and ask about where you parked.

        • Reply Roxann Hamilton, M.Ed., CWRAPF, COLTC, CSIS, CPSWS, June 22, 2012 at 1:02 am

          Please note! Many people who have what appears may be a Service Dog are frauds who lie about being disabled, and that the dog with them is a task trained Service Dog.

          • rufflyspeaking June 22, 2012 at 1:55 am

            Strike one…

          • KellyK June 22, 2012 at 7:55 am

            Can you show studies and hard numbers backing that up? “Many people” is a generalization that rules can’t and shouldn’t be based on.

            There is also fraud in handicapped hang-tags, such as people keeping the tags after the qualified person dies, “borrowing” it, etc. But there’s no reason to get worked up over that unless there are actual numbers to show that it’s an issue and that people who need the spaces don’t have access. Similarly, there needs to be documented evidence that fake service dogs are out there in sufficient numbers and causing actual problems, to warrant regulatory changes.

  • Reply Martha June 20, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    Beth, “comfort dogs”, known by their legal definition of Emotional Support Animals(ESA) are allows to fly the same as service dogs. Flying is under the ACAA, not the ADA, and different rules apply.

    While, I do 100% agree that there is a distinct line where the legal standard is and we all need to know it, there is also an unwritten service dog etiquette. I do believe that as service dog handlers, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard than the bare minimum of the law. If we do not, the “powers that be” will likely come in and change the legal standard in a way that is detrimental to us. We have to remember that while we have the right to have our dogs, other people have rights too. The disabled population is among the minority, and we do not want to see things changed so that our already difficult lives become harder.

    Also, while it is not our duty to educate or represent, we have to face the fact that we do represent service dog teams. I know that I am often the first service dog handler most people in my area have ever seen. Whether or not they leave with a good or bad taste about service dogs will depend on how I interact with them. Do I always answer questions? No. Am I always perfectly polite? No. A lot depends on how I feel and how they initiated the encounter. But, it is something I have to remember. It is something we should all remember.

    • Reply rufflyspeaking June 21, 2012 at 5:30 am

      Thank you for the airline clarification; it was badly needed.

      In terms of “good” behavior, it’s a bit like this:

      Because of the convictions of my faith, my family doesn’t swear or use coarse words. “Frell” is about as blue as it gets around here. This is a behavior we believe supports our efforts to live in accordance to our faith.

      If we keep on doing this for the rest of our lives, OR we suddenly decided to swear a blue streak and then yell at people while wearing “We are Evangelical Christians” t-shirts, our actions should have no bearing whatsoever on whether freedom of religion is a fundamental right in the United States.

      You do not have to earn, maintain, or protect a right by your own behavior. Rights sit apart from behavior. Legal recourses for protected classes ALSO sit apart from behavior; you don’t have to be a “good” Latina to be protected from hate crimes and you don’t have to be a “well behaved” woman to have the right to buy a business.

      Disability rights are about allowing disabled people to have the same normal lives as nondisabled people. They’re allowed to be as disagreeable or friendly or visible or invisible as they would be if they were not disabled. Saying that they “should” be nicer people than nondisabled people, or should voluntarily restrict their access rights purely so nondisabled people feel comfortable with them, is pretty much the definition of discrimination.

      If you want to have a behavioral goal for disabled people, why not switch from “be totally inoffensive” to “be fiercely proud and ensure that your legal standards are never threatened”?

      This argument keeps reminding me, honestly, of the public breastfeeding issue. There are many who believe that in order to keep everyone calm and comfortable and make sure nobody takes any negative action, moms should always cover up and go away from any public view. Should “hold themselves to a higher standard.” Thankfully, the response to any public airing of that attitude has been that suddenly four hundred women show up and nurse babies in the middle of your produce section. I would love for SD handlers to have the same fierce hold on their rights and the same attitude of solidarity, instead of suggesting that anybody voluntarily restrict themselves so they don’t draw negative attention.

      • Reply Beth June 21, 2012 at 7:08 am

        But Joanna, there are many many rights that have restrictions. I have a right to free speech, but I can’t stand outside my neighbor’s front stoop shouting at 2am. Or yell “fire” in a theater. Or slander someone. I have a right to peaceable assembly, but can’t do so where I interrupt certain activities. I think Martha is not talking about disabled people needing to be nicer than other people. I think she’s saying that ALL OF US have a responsibility to balance our needs against the needs of others. Disabled people don’t have an extra responsibility to do that. We all do, and the fact that some people don’t is not a good reason for other people not to. That’s all.

        • Reply rufflyspeaking June 21, 2012 at 8:35 am

          You DO have the right to go yell at 2 AM anywhere that public assembly is otherwise allowed. It’s all about not asking a protected class to live a different life with different access than a nondisabled person. A service dog owner does not have ADA protection in a private home, because a nondisabled person is bound by house rules too. A service dog owner DOES have protection in a movie theatre during open hours.

          I place many, many personal restrictions on myself during my daily life – the not swearing one is a good example. I also dress a certain way and eat a certain way and so on. But (if I have a disability) I should never be told I have to be a good girl because everybody notices me more due to the disability. And I should never have anyone pressuring me to give up rights in order to give an impression of being a good girl.

          I am honestly amazed that we keep having this discussion – didn’t we stop telling girls to dress modestly or they’d be responsible for their own rape oh, twenty years ago? If you say that a disabled person has to voluntarily give up their rights and, if they don’t do so, it’s their own fault if their rights get taken away from them later, doesn’t that strike you as completely AWFUL? You really want that attitude to be how we address disabled people?

          • Roxann Hamilton, M.Ed., CWRAPF, COLTC, CSIS, CPSWS, June 22, 2012 at 1:12 am

            Actually, of one would be outside yelling at 2 a.m., that would be called disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace which is a crime. Similar breaking of he law has been tolerated in many communities (my city for one) with the protest groups camping outside for I can’t remember what their issue was. (Occupy something or other) Their “right” to do that was tolerated only so long, and when other functions were necessary for the safety of the general public, the protestors were forced to disband or be relegated to camp out in a distant location.

            Further, one’s freedom of speech is curtailed by local and federal law for many reasons! We, as responsible citizens respect that.

    • Reply Mary K January 13, 2013 at 9:55 pm

      Regarding flying- Handlers with either an Emotional Support Animals (ESA’s) OR a Psychiatric Service Dogs can be required to present a current (less than a year old) letter from their treating clinician to confirm their need for the animal. This was, I believe, intended to cut down on the number of people flying with their pets in the cabin. You can’t “just show up” with an animal, claim it’s your ESA, and be assured of a space in the cabin.

  • Reply Beth June 21, 2012 at 7:20 am

    By the way, I support service dogs in public places and have donated money to service dog groups for many years. I’m not arguing against their use.

  • Reply Micaela Torregrosa-Mahoney June 21, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    the post is beautiful, but I’d proudly give Joanna a special award for the comment posted June 20th at 6:55pm.

    WTG, J! Just drive me to tears, will ya? <3

  • Reply Beth June 21, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Joanna, you have a funny way of turning what people say into something they did not say and then busting it down. Straw men everywhere….

    • Reply Kris June 21, 2012 at 11:25 am


  • Reply D.L.M. June 21, 2012 at 10:27 am

    I enjoyed reading this, especially I regards to not having to behave a certain way (better, nicer, “an example”) due to being the user of a service dog. It puts me in mind of the pressure placed upon people who work in a certain profession who are “not allowed” to be anything but wonderful and tolerant and patient and perfect, even in their private time when not on the job (which should be never, btw, as we’re supposed to do job stuff on our own time and dime as well, dontchaknow). In fact, we’re sometimes regaled with movies portraying truly extraordinary members of that profession as the examples we’re supposed to emulate. (Teacher who hates “Saint Teacher” movies here, can you tell?)

    You mentioned earlier you hadn’t heard of real, verified cases of anyone taking advantage of the service dog (or ESA dog) laws to get to fly with their dogs in the cabin, and I can provide one. A friend of mine who is a somewhat well-know handler of the dog sport I do (no desire to “out” anyone, but I’ll provide details to Joanna if she asks) freely and openly admitted in class one night that she bought a vest off the Internet so that her competition dog could fly in the cabin instead of in cargo to some major event. She wasn’t speaking hypothetically, she actually did this.

    Now, frankly, I’m not totally sure I have a huge problem with that; after all, the dog is very well-behaved and didn’t cause any problems, but still… I guess I’m not sure how I feel about stuff like that. Or about people claiming service dogs in order to have pets in no-pets-allowed housing.

    And I’m definitely not arguing that it’s rampant or anything, just providing an actual (not urban legend, I heard it from a friend-of-a-friend, opinion piece in the paper) example. I, too, have “heard” that “many” do this, but I only personally know of that one example. I know that anecdote =/= data.

    Thank you again for a very interesting post. I enjoy your blog, whether it’s the soft-and-fluffy posts or the more intense ones. I don’t always agree with you, but always, always enjoy reading what you have to say and the exceedingly apt (and entertaining, where appropriate!) way you have of saying it!

  • Reply Beth June 21, 2012 at 10:58 am

    One final thought: This post seems to have arisen because I suggested it might be nice to consider other people’s needs before letting a dog eat raw meat and then go into a grocery store and actually mouth the groceries. That’s it. I fully and completely support the rights of service dogs in public places. But I don’t think it’s a good idea for anyone to handle raw meat and then touch other stuff without washing. That was and is my only concern.

  • Reply Jerika June 21, 2012 at 11:35 am

    I feel like a lot of people are interpreting rights vs choices. A service dog team has a choice to represent themselves in a certain manner, but that doesn’t mean that they have to.

    I have the right to walk my dogs so long as this right doesn’t cause harm to the public. Just like I can go into a movie theater and talk and while it might be annoying I can do it, but the manager also has the right to ask me to leave because I am being annoying. Much like you may scream FIRE, but then you are causing HARM to people in the theater because you are causing panic.

    If a dog and handler team are sitting in a movie theater. They are not bothering you, or the people around you. THEY have the RIGHT to access that spot just like you and me. If that dog starts biting people, and going insane then just like you screaming FIRE they should and can be removed.

    Asking a person with a disability to accommodate you, who otherwise lives a normal life is not your right. You can chose to avoid places where a handler and her dog go, but you have no right to ask them leave or to explain to you why they need their dog. I’m on anti-depressants and I don’t want to tell people I’m going to classes with, or people who I don’t know that I am depressed so I have to be on a pill, because otherwise I’ll sit inside of a house like a hermit all day. My mother has a seizure disorder which makes it so she cannot drive a car. She doesn’t want to explain to you why her 22 year old daughter drives her all over the place and you honestly have no right to ask.

    If someone needs a service dog, and they are not causing harm to the public. YOU have no right to REQUIRE anything out of them. And if you find their presence to be offensive. YOU have all the RIGHT to leave. 🙂

  • Reply Bev Levy June 21, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Wow, so much discussion! As I mentioned early on I recently returned from a large, crowded, European city where dogs were everywhere. Restaurants, metro, stores…just about everywhere. Other than a law that dogs must be muzzled on buses and trains there appears to be no problems.There are big fines against the owner if the dog bites someone. It works in many other countries but not here..why is that? I think we worry too much here in the US about the letter of the law and not enough about the spirit. If it helps some one to have their dog with them and the dog is not being bothersome..why do people care??

  • Reply Martha June 21, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Fundamentally, I agree that as disabled service dog handlers we should not have to do anything beyond live our lives. (I am also staunchly 1000% against certification/registration/licensure requirements). I spent my first few years as a SD handler fighting the whole, “What one does effects all” mentality. But, you know what…reality is not that way.

    Let’s look at the ADA Final Rule and the change that was made to the definition of service animal. Prior to March 15, 2012, any animal, any species, could be a service animal. Post March 15, 2011, only dogs are defined as sevice animals with a provision allowing access for miniature horses. However, right now there is a bill working its way through to strip miniature horse handlers of their rights. Why did this happen? Well, it happened because of fakers and poorly trained non dog service animals. While the majority of non dig service animals were likely not legitimate in one way or another, there were legitimate ones and their handlers now have no rights.

    There is also a movement backed by ADI to push for legal changes so that only ADI dogs are recognized. That is the LAST thing most of us want. Will it happen? I honestly doubt it. But, other changes could, and likely will happen in the future, whether we like it or not. Our rights are not absolute, and the DOJ has already demonstrated that they can and will change them. The best way to keep them from changing it is to not give them a reason to. The best way to do that is to hold ourselves to a high standard. If owner trainers hold ourselves to the standard of the programs, then there will be no reason for the DOJ to change the law. I don’t like it, but it is the way it is.

    On being nice… I am not a people person and I don’t like stopping to talk to everyone who comes up to me, and I don’t always. But EVERYONE here knows who I am bc I’m the one attached to a 115 lb service dog. I’d rather not be known as that b*tch with a dog. And yes, as I stated before, more often than not, I am the only service dog team people have seen, so their impression of service dogs will be based on what they see in me. But also, I have a seizure disorder. If I start to seize in a store, people are going to be more likely to stop and help me if I’ve been nice to them.

    On the whole handicapped placard thing…those are issued bc there is a limited number of handicap parking spaces. There is not a limit on the number of service dogs that can be in one place at one time. That is not a valid comparison, and I get tired if hearing it.

    • Reply KellyK June 22, 2012 at 7:05 am

      Thanks for explaining that. The question that I’m still confused about is how holding yourself (as a person with a service dog) to a high standard addresses the problem (however big or small it is) of people faking. If that high standard includes having the dog wear a vest and having paperwork, fakers will buy a vest and BS some paperwork (and probably already do, at least the vest), unless there’s a specifically required certification that’s hard to fake (which would eliminate people like Honour from having a service dog). Is the hope that any service dog anyone meets would be so well-trained that a fake would be easy to spot because the dog isn’t as well-controlled or obviously in “work mode”? It sounds like a lot of the rumored faking is coming from the show dog community, though, where most dogs are already pretty well trained. (At least, that’s my understanding from Joanna’s posts.)

    • Reply Beth June 22, 2012 at 8:28 pm

      Martha, the “on being nice part”: I can speak to that because I have an obvious impairment. I routinely get asked in public “What did you do to your neck?” I have several options. I can tell them it’s not their concern, but that hardly seems to benefit me, them, or the situation so I honestly have never taken this route (though I have thought it). I could like and say “I slept funny” but then I need to endure the litany of (well-meaning, good-hearted) home remedies to fix it, or referrals to someone’s “excellent” chiropractor (chiropractic is contra-indicated for my condition and manipulation of my neck would likely kill me). Or I could be honest. So despite the fact that I am, in real like, an intensely private person, I take a big internal sigh, smile my warmest fake smile, and give some iteration of “I have arthritis.” Sometimes that’s all I say. Sometimes, if I’m feeling friendly and the person seems genuinely interested, I say “I have a form of arthritis of the spine called ankylosing spondylitis. I have permanent soft-tissue damage.” Most people then ask if it hurts, etc to which I can reply “Not so much now that I have it under control with medication” or something. If I am feeling witchy, honestly, I say the above and add on the “which can cause your spine to fuse together” which is true but also sorta mean because it tends to freak people out…. again, which is why it’s mean and I rarely do it.

      The thing that gets me the most is when I visit message boards for my condition, I regularly hear people one day bemoan lack of public awareness, and the next day bemoan people asking them what’s wrong… On an emotional level I totally get that: sometimes it’s just exhausting. You wish more doctor’s and stuff knew about it. You wish more EMT’s knew about it so they didn’t try to kill us on backboards. You REALLY wish more ER doctors knew about it. But you just don’t want to be the one to have to tell people. But on an intellectual level, I think “Well if I don’t tell people, how will they learn?” The Lupus folks have done a phenomenal job with public education. Phenomenal. And I’m sure many of them are exhausted, too. AS is no less common than Lupus (I need to check the figures, but I think it’s actually more common), yet much less widely understood.

      So I figure it is my job, and the job of people like me, to educate the public (and doctors, which I most surely do every chance I get). Because who else’s job WOULD it be. It’s not up to the public, surely, to go out of their way to research diseases that don’t impact them. (Though it IS doctors’ jobs and many of them don’t, which is another story altogether).

      Similarly, the only ones who are going to educate the public about service dogs are service dog handlers and trainers and organizations. The seeing eye dog people did a good job. And I’ve more recently seen a fair number of write ups in non-dog publications about other assistance dogs. I think that’s a great start. I don’t expect every handler to spread his or her own story, but I think all who feel it’s not too much of a burden should consider doing outreach where it’s not too disruptive. Some people have a real talent for it. I think most people are receptive as long as the message isn’t heavy-handed or anything.

      • Reply Beth June 22, 2012 at 8:30 pm

        Typos: “Like” instead of “lie” and “life” in first paragraph…

  • Reply Martha June 21, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    I need to make a correction to my above comment. It should have said, “Prior to March 15, 2011”, not 2012.

  • Reply Leanne June 21, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Thank you for the initial post, Joanna, and I’ve followed the comments with interest! I’m actually a little shocked at some of the “issues” that people have raised, but I guess there is a general lack of awareness about Service Dogs, and awareness about the position of priviledge that those who don’t need SD’s are able to speak from.

    The attitude toward Service Dogs in the UK seems positive, to the best of my knowledge. Crufts/The Kennel Club runs an annual “Friends for Life” competition (as well as demonstrations and promotions at the show) which has really helped to highlight the work of Service Dogs in various different capacities. I do feel like I need to go away and research more now though, and find out if we are as accepting as a country as I think.

    I’m glad Godric’s training is going well, and that Honour is able to have him in her life.

  • Reply Martha June 21, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    Here’s my breakdown of why service dog permits/license/certification ( whatever you want to call it) is a bad thing:

    1). It won’t stop fakers. There is already fake certification available online and there is no legally recognized certification in the US. It’s already a crime to fake it. HS kids make fake IDs all the time (I was a teacher, I’ve seen ’em). If you think having certification is going to ensure someone has a legit dog, you are delusional. If someone wants to fake it, they will get around it.

    2) Who will pay for it? To make the disabled person pay for it amounts to a tax for being disabled. No other DME (and a SD IS a DME is certified). The government can not afford such a system.

    3) What would the testing requirements be? Are you going to make the dog demonstrate the task/work? My dog is a seizure, syncope, hypoglycemia alert dog. Are you going to make me endure an episode to prove my dog’s job? That would be not only cruel but life threatening. Further, what PAT would be done? The skills a dog that lives in rural Mississippi are not the same set of skills that a dog that lives in an urban environment needs. Besides, all a test proves is that that dog could do those skills in the environment on that one day. If I knew the environment ahead of time, I could get any one of my 3 dogs to pass a PAT, but only 1 has any business working in public.

    4) Name ONE other class of citizen that has to show ID to go about their daily lives. I will save you time…there isn’t one. I am not a second class citizen and I will not be treated as one.

    5) There are already laws in place to protect businesses from ill trained or fake SDs, ENFORCE them. There are already laws in place making it illegal to fake it….ENFORCE THEM! Enforce them publicly and fakers will stop.

    But, please, do not go making my already extremely difficult life harder due to misconceptions, ignorance, or a few bad apples.

  • Reply Roxann Hamilton, M.Ed., CWRAPF, COLTC, CSIS, CPSWS, June 22, 2012 at 1:36 am

    The licensure and certification goes far past the Service Dog and should be the trainer/owner/handler that has to have a license to operate one! The poor dog is a product of its training or lack of training. It is the responsibility of any pet or dog owner or Service Dog partner or trainer to manage and steward the dog appropriately.

    The problems aren’t privilege of having a HC parking tag/plate, or even what level or type of disability needs the assistance of a Service Dog. The problem is that people who are not disabled under ADA or even who are disabled under ADA do not present their pet dogs as obedient, quiet, house broken, mannerly task-trained dogs.

    I too, am an educator as well as a graphic artist. I am keenly aware anyone can make even bar code plastic photograph IDs that would pass any scrutiny as authentic. Fakery and fraud will always exist. Until; the punishment for such choice is so harsh and costly, people are not scared enpugh to not commit the crime. My pod of inmates I supervised for the Dept of Corrections was filled with people with the mantra of “LOL They can’t take away my birthday!” Just no rspect for rules, adherence and compliance to rules. If you are a teacher in any public school, I will bet your students also share that attitude.

    All people should be able to bring their pet dogs with them in all places! I love dogs! But, I want me and my working dog to be safe from physical attack, harrassment, and I don’t want to see the property destruction caused by uncontrolled and untrained dogs.

    A major reason legislation happens is because people refuse to moderate and control their own behavior….. so the government will step in at one point and create laws regulating the behavior people refuse to self-reguate.

    A final thought: to those of you who hold the PAT as a God: All pet pups/dogs should be able to have the behaviors required in a PAT as a minimum behavior standard. They should be trained well enough by 6-7 months old to behave mannerly. The PAT is grossly and humiliatingly low standards for dog performance to be in public places.

    • Reply rufflyspeaking June 22, 2012 at 1:45 am

      Talking about requiring licensing for service dog handlers is getting pretty close to trolling, Roxann. If you want to contribute rationally, I am all for it, but I am not going to even dignify that last assertion with an answer. I’ve never had to ban a commenter and I hope to never have to have to, but you’re hereby on probation.

      • Reply Roxann Hamilton, M.Ed., CWRAPF, COLTC, CSIS, CPSWS, June 22, 2012 at 3:16 am

        Thank you. I am not sure what probation entails, but obviously I upset you and apologize that you were upset. It most assuredly was not my intent. I will take your suggestions under advisement, of course.

        • Reply rufflyspeaking June 22, 2012 at 3:38 am

          It means “This is a pro-dog, pro-ownership, pro-disability blog. Anyone popping up and trilling excitedly about how tons of supposedly disabled people are fakers and chirping about how the powers that be are about to announce licensing for protected classes goes in a killfile.”

          Joanna Kimball, OMP, DNTC
          (owner of my playground, does not tolerate crap)

        • Reply lisa June 22, 2012 at 10:56 am

          I have to ask: Please explain the alphabet soup under your name? So far, I figured out that you’ve gone to grad school. The rest doesn’t even Google.

  • Reply Martha June 22, 2012 at 2:01 am

    OK, Roxann, back up that statement that many people who have service dogs are frauds. Do you have proof? Do you have facts? Or Do you just have conjecture and obviously biased opinion?

    • Reply Roxann Hamilton, M.Ed., CWRAPF, COLTC, CSIS, CPSWS, June 22, 2012 at 3:22 am

      Oh, yes! I absolutely do have proof to back up my observations. That is how i have become aware of the burgeoning problem. My professional experience working as an ombudsman and advocate for my clients whom are persons with disabilities and use Service Dogs has shown me the evidence during my investigations process of my cases. However, I have been instructed that I am on probation for what I spoke about in my last post. I do not wish to cause issues for the owner and writer of the Blog as I respect her rules, so I am feeling awkward about how to respond to your question. I apologize.

  • Reply Martha June 22, 2012 at 10:49 am

    You said you had proof, but I have yet to see any.

    Are there fakers and frauds? Yes there are, and there will always be. No amount of regulation will change that. Is it as big of a deal as some make it out to be? No.

    It is a big problem in pockets of this country. For example, Los Angeles and San Fransisco (though San Fransisco made its own problem by granting public access to people with ESAs.). But, for most of this country, it’s a nonissue. I, in my entire life, have not seen what I would even suspect to be a faker.

    Now, I do think fakers need to be dealt with bc as service dogs are becoming more popular, people are becoming more aware of the laws, and people who never would have before are faking. But, that can be done without making the lives of the legitimately disabled more difficult. For example, it is a crime in many states to fake it with penalties ranging from fines to jail time. On the federal level, you can lose your right to social security if you are caught. ENFORCE THE LAWS! Do it publicly and people will stop. A lot of fakers just know a piece of SD law and don’t realize it’s a crime and they can get in real trouble for it.

    Another thing that needs to be done is education. The businesses are learning quickly our rights. They need to learn theirs and that they CAN ask 2 questions and if they aren’t answered properly, they can deny access. I have only once been asked both ADA questions. It was during a dog mob and the person had just the week before kicked out a SD team and then been educated on the law. They CAN kick out teams that pose a direct threat to public health, safety, interfering with the fundamental nature of the business, or where the dog is not potty trained.

    The public also needs to know that faking is not a victimless crime and they are doing legitimate harm to real teams when they do it. It may be that their dog attacks a team or it could be that their dog isn’t nearly as well trained as our dogs are and they lead a sour taste in the business’s mouth towards SDs, and the owner/manager decides to “do something about these dogs”.

    While I have no concrete numbers, I do believe that most people are not all out scum bags and an educational campaign will fix most of the issues. We will never get rid of all of the fakers, so creating new laws and restricting the rights of the disabled won’t eliminate the problem.
    Enforce the laws we have (bc they are enough if enforced), educate businesses and individuals and a lot of the problem will be solved.

  • Reply Martha June 22, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    Oh Beth, I agree completely. I have 2 invisible disabilities (unless you catch me in the midst of an episode) that most people, including doctors, have never heard of: Dysautonomia and Dystonia. The former means my autonomic nervous system does not function properly. The later is a non epileptic seizure disorder.

    I also have my service dog. People almost always assume I’m training for an organization and tend to approach with questions along those lines. I tell them he’s mine. Could I just let them think I’m training? Yeah, but I feel like I would be doing a disservice to those with invisibilities by doing that. Then, the “What’s wrong?” questions start. I will normally just say that I have a seizure disorder and leave it at that. I don’t always want to discuss it, especially if I’m not feeling well. But, like you said, that doesn’t really help anyone.

    Now, I have gotten testy with some people. For example, a woman tried to “lay hands” on me in Wal Mart. I also threatened to bite someone last weekend. She was badgering me about petting my SD and would not take any nice explanation or the word no for an answer. She said (after a ton of trying to explain that he was working), “but if I pet him, will he bite me”, while reaching. I responded, “No, but I will.” That got her to back off.

    Generally, if people approach with genuine curiosity and are nice and polite, I will be in return. It’s when they get pushy, are rude, demanding, and obnoxious that I am not always quite so nice.

  • Reply Martha June 23, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Laura is right. However, if the only thing a dog assists with is sleeping then you wouldn’t have regular everyday public access rights with them. While the ADA itself does not spell it out, courts have ruled that if the dog’s tasks are not/can not be performed in the public venue, then it is not a reasonable accommodation to have them there. You would, however, have the rights when traveling, in hotels, hospitals, situations where sleeping in involved.

    If your PTSD limits your life in other ways, there are tasks you can teach your dog to mitigate it. There are a number of service dog support groups that are helpful in navigating the complexities of the service dog world. My personal favorite is the “Service Dog Handler’s Support Group” on Facebook.

  • Reply Martha July 24, 2012 at 4:47 pm


    In order for your dog to be a service dog, they must do something to mitigate the disability. Providing comfort, or making you feel better simply because they are there, is legally excluded as task/work. The key is that the dog must actively do something (alert, retrieve, provide balance, guiding are examples). All of our dogs makes us feel better by their presense but they do much more.

    In order to figure out if it is possible for a service dog to assist you, make a list of all the things that you can not do due to your disability. Next to each one write what, if anything, a dog can do to mitigate the disability. Remember a couple of things, one, a diagnosis does not make you disabled. It’s how the dx effects you that dermines if it is disabling. In order to count, what the dog is mitigating must be disabling. Also, keep in mind that proving comfort or emotional support does not count under the law.

    After you make your list, that is what you train. Once you know if a service dog can assist you, you need to have your dog evaluated for the proper temperament. Most dogs do not have the right temperament to make it as a service dog. You do not want to pour in a whole lot of time, money, energy, and emotional investment if the dog isn’t suited for the work.

    I also highly suggest working with a trainer who has SD experience while training your dog. There are a lot of pit falls and easy ways to accidentally ruin a SD. There are also support groups available. My favorite is “The Service Dog Handlers Support Group” on facebook.

    Good Luck

  • Reply Rebecca February 19, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    I would love to follow your blog . . . but I’m not seeing any way to do so. Can you help me out? Am I missing a link? No RSS? No Facebook notice? No email going out? I’m a busy girl and I know I will forget to check back often without some sort of reminder. And I don’t see any way to contact you either.

    I’ve read a few of your posts already and love ’em! I don’t want to miss ’em!

  • Reply Ashley February 27, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Thank you for this. I have a service dog who helps me with my mobility issues with walking due to complications from clubfeet. Some people just don’t understand that because I sit all day at work that I don’t need Alice there but if I am walking in a shopping mall for several hours that I need Alice there. I appreciate the list that you made because it is factual and wonderful.

  • Reply Beca September 2, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    Thanks for posting this again – the timing is fortuitous, as my bosses’ college-age daughter is getting started with a service dog to help her with an invisible disability. She did a fair amount of research around her rights/responsibilities wrt traveling with her dog, but this was helpful to get her started thinking through potential situations she might encounter and how to handle them. Moreover, her parents were originally very muddled about the relationship between the ADA and their daughter’s dog and (for example) what legal terms to use when, say, booking hotel rooms for a family trip. This, and your other posts, have been very helpful parts of the family’s education. Thanks. 🙂

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