Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"It's a Service Dog!"

At the risk of backlash and sounding like an asshole, I'm going to take a stand and say this service dog business is getting entirely out of hand.

Don't get me wrong.  Service dogs are necessary.  Service dogs do a specific job for their handlers and should be allowed in all places of business so that the person in need of assistance can live as normal a life as possible.  I am not against service dogs in any way shape or form. They are essential.

According to the American Disabilities Act, "Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."

That bears repeating:  "Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."  Also, a service dog is not a pet.

Often I think it's more the poor dog that needs comfort or emotional support, but that's another story.

The problem is it's not always obvious if a dog is actually a service dog or just a comfort animal used for emotional support. 

At least once a week someone comes into my place of business with their dog claiming "service dog."  We are limited to two questions: Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability and what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?  We are not allowed to ask about the person's disability, medical history (of course not, and that's completely fine), certification or identification for the dog, or request a demonstration of the dog's tasks.  If people answer these questions correctly they can keep the dog in the building until the dog either pees on the floor (which has happened), barks incessantly and annoyingly (which has happened), or is left somewhere in the building without it's handler. Under the law, a service dog must be under control of its handler.  Also if someone comes in with their "service dog" and then another person leaves with said dog, that is also grounds for being banned. Service dogs are not shared even though the owner tried to convince us otherwise and also threatened to sue. I had another lady come in with her Chihuahua or whatever it was, bundled in her coat. I politely told her we don't allow dogs and she said it was a service dog for her husband who broke his back. I dropped the matter at the time, but my question is, if the dog is a service dog for the husband and his broken back, why was she carrying it into the building and where was he?

That Chihuahua did not look happy being carted around in a coat either. It was shaking and staring at me with these huge eyes like it was begging someone to rescue it.

Eventually one of these dogs is going to get completely out of control and bite someone, and then it's off to the pound and euthanasia for that dog, which is incredibly sad and unnecessary (and could very well be prevented).

This seems to be happening in grocery stores, restaurants, and local shops as well, and probably doctor's offices and hospitals. I can't seem to go anywhere lately without seeing a parade of canines marching by.  And sure, people use the excuse that you never truly know if a dog is actually performing a task for a person with a disability as not all disabilities can be seen.  But a dog that's yelping and bouncing around and peeing itself out of the sheer excitement of being somewhere other than home is probably not a service dog. 

These are the dogs I have a problem with and these are the dogs I see popping up everywhere I go.

I have no problem with service dogs, but people who can't seem to leave the house without their dog, and then abuse the rather vague and convoluted law regarding service animals just so they don't have to leave precious at home, that does bother me.  Not only is the law vague and convoluted, it's also extremely easy to go online and order a little coat and certification for an animal, with no training required.  Most of the time this is detrimental to the dog.  These dogs are not well behaved or trained for the specific purpose of navigating social situations in order to benefit someone in need.  These dogs are often just being dragged all over God's green earth because their owners are so attached to them or else need emotional support for anxiety that it's making the dogs anxious.

 Let's face it, most people don't spend a lot of time training their dogs or working with their behavior issues to be able to take them out in all manner of social settings.  My dog included.  I know her limitations. If someone brings a dog into a place of business claiming service dog, and then it pees on the floor, growls at a child, and jumps up on furniture, scratching around, then it's pretty obvious that dog is not a service dog.  A service dog is trained to behave impeccably under the most stressful of situations. Sure accidents happen, but they are rare in service dogs (and also the law does allow businesses to ask even service dogs to leave the premises if they become disruptive or destructive).

My dog, for example, could never be a therapy dog or a service dog.  She might be a German shepherd, but she does not have the temperament for that kind of work.  Police work or drug sniffer would be more geared towards her talents and capabilities.  If I dragged Tess everywhere including restaurants and grocery stores claiming her as a service dog, she'd have such sensory overload from all the activity, sights, and smells, that SHE would be the one with anxiety and I'd have to get HER a comfort animal.

I have anxiety too. I can get some pretty bad panic attacks. There was one I remember quite well when I was at a writers conference in New York City. Talk about sensory overload, but I can tell you right now that Tess would have been zero help as a therapy animal and zero comfort. She would have been ten times worse, only fueling my anxiety into higher levels.

I have anxiety just taking that beast into the car with me.

The message these so-called "service dog" handlers are sending the rest of us seems to be "It's all about me, so tough." They abuse the law because only their needs, wants, and wishes are important.  It doesn't matter if their dog is causing someone problems, they want the dog with them so therefore they will do whatever it takes to make that happen. And if someone dares challenge it, they threaten to sue.

It's the American way.

Meanwhile it's extremely insulting for people who actually have real, trained service dogs. And the general population is getting hostile towards service dogs because of the abuse, and that is extremely unfair to the people with actual service dogs. And I've found those people usually have no problem presenting proof and certification for their dogs, and will hand it over voluntarily even though they don't have to.

Another interesting thing I've noticed is most of these so-called "service dog" handlers are way too chipper and happy about letting any Tom, Dick or Harriet come up, coo to, and pet their dogs.  People with actual service dogs can be quite curt about telling people to NOT touch their dogs or even pay attention to them because the animal is WORKING.  I don't bother service dogs that are out and about, doing their job.  I have, however, been accosted many times by a "service dog" as it thew itself at my leg and tried to jump up on me, licking. 

God help us, the ADA has now also revised the law to allow service miniature horses that are trained specifically to help those with disabilities.  This is great for people who actually need one, as horses are very intelligent and rather fun animals to have.  The little ones are especially fun and cute, but here in horse country it's only a matter of time before some lunatic decides they need to bring their pet miniature horse wherever they go, claiming "service horse," and flinging fake paperwork around acquired from the Internet.  Service animals must be housebroken.  A faux service horse can quite possibly leave enough droppings in a business as to bring the public health inspector down on its head.

Thank God it's only dogs and horses right now.  I doubt service crocodiles will ever be a thing, but I dread the day someone comes in claiming a service cat (I read somewhere that someone trains Savannah cats for this?) or service ferret or, God forbid, service tarantula.  And I wouldn't put it past some idiot to try and sneak in their "service mountain lion" or "service wolf." 

"What work or task has your tarantula been trained to perform?"

"Scare the shit out of anyone who comes near me and causes anxiety."

Honestly, places of business will soon just be glorified dog parks.  I feel sorry for the cat people.


These two are definitely not service animal material.

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