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Friday, January 27, 2012

Dogs in Service

The awesome Murphy
   I said I wasn't going to write much about disability, and I won't. I DO however, feel like I need to address some issues around service dogs. I usually like to put a humorous spin on things; to make light (if possible) of the things that irritate the hell out of me, but some things aren't funny. Even better, I am trying, ever so hard, not to get 'hooked' by the things I find especially provocative. I prefer to act on my surroundings and circumstances, not to have them act upon me. I think most of the time I am fairly successful if I have a moment or two to mull something over before I need to react. Sometimes though...not so much. When it comes to outright ignorance around service dogs by people who should know better, I quickly lose my patience. Fortunately, I have this awesome outlet where I can simultaneously vent my impotent outrage AND set the record straight.

    I can completely understand why the average person is clueless about service dog rules and etiquette. Why wouldn't they be? Even so, I have found in most of my dealings with the public that people are usually quite polite and understanding. I have rarely had access challenges, even while traveling by air (love you JetBlue!) and I am very appreciative of that.  I have been very fortunate that when I have encountered someone who wasn't clear about what the rules/laws are, they have been very willing to be educated. I think that's great. Even so, I know of many folks who's experiences have been much more confrontational because a 'gatekeeper' didn't have a clue and was rude, belligerent and unwilling to avail themselves of all the readily available information about service dog laws. THAT, to me, is unacceptable. I also have a very difficult time when the media gets it wrong. Come ON! The correct information is so clear and so easy to find (ADA Service Animal Info) There is really no excuse.

    To summarize I will clarify some of the most common erroneous beliefs that set my teeth on edge:

1) Therapy dogs are service dogs.

NO, they are not. Service dogs and therapy dogs are NOT THE SAME THING. Never have been, never will be. The laws governing the two are completely different. Every time I hear somebody call their therapy dog a service dog (or worse, a 'working service dog'), I want to scream. When I hear the media use the terms interchangeably, I want to throw something at my TV. NOT the same. Not even close. And while we are on the subject, psych-dogs are also NOT therapy dogs. They are SERVICE dogs with all of the specialized training associated with that title.

2)A 'real' service dog is licensed and/or certified.

Wrong. There is NO certification or licensing process for service dogs. None. In fact, it is not legal to ask for proof of either, or to deny access because the handler doesn't have them. There are plenty of companies that offer these things over the internet, but it's something you buy, not something you earn. Some program dogs come with certificates, but not always. It is recommended that a dog earn it's CGC (or similar) before it progresses to Service Dog in Training status, but it's a guideline, not a requirement. Also, identification and vests are at the discretion of the handler and lack thereof is also not grounds for denying access. My personal feeling here though (and this is my PERSONAL OPINION), is that I will always 'dress' my dog, just out of consideration to the public and gatekeepers. I think it's weird enough to see dogs in unusual places that I make it as easy on people as possible. In turn, I rarely get challenged. It's all good.

3) A 'real' service dog is trained by a special organization

 Not necessarily. A handler absolutely can train their own dog. In fact, many service dogs working today have been trained by their own handlers, often with the guidance of a trainer. Consequently, I know more than a few disabled handlers that are also exceptional trainers.

4) "But how do you know if it's fake? Shouldn't we limit who can work with a service dog?"

I've heard that more times than I can count. NO, you do not take the dishonest behavior of some people out on the disabled public. That's stupid. Who needs a dog is determinable by an individual and their doctor. Period. The ADA agrees. The best indicator of a "fake"? Their behavior. A pet rarely has the skills to be calm and attentive in places like bus stations, restaurants and airports. Imagine just taking your pet to the grocery store. Could they do it? Service dogs are trained to handle it and do it every day, and it shows. An establishment is well within their rights to ask that a disruptive or dangerous animal be removed, even if that dog is a legit service dog, so there is recourse.

    Okay, well that's my little rant for today, inspired by a ridiculously bad news report that a friend posted on Facebook (because it was so bad). The news station pulled the story because of the heat they got, so I had to resort to writing my own story instead of lambasting them directly. Oh well. The media has no excuse for being that ignorant and sharing that ignorance with the public. NONE.


Murphy's collar is by Paco Collars. They are AWESOME!!

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