(Note: This is an edited version of an article published yesterday).
Those of us in Portland, Oregon will not soon forget hearing about a tragic bus ride a few years ago. A woman was riding with her service dog when a larger dog attacked and killed the animal. It was particularly gut-wrenching to hear that the attack was unprovoked and the larger dog was not a service animal. See below:
I am sure that this added to the growing, if often unexpressed, resentment towards people who are allegedly playing the “disability” card: labeling their animals “service animals” and proceeding to take them to all manner of places where they normally would be forbidden (grocery stores, restaurants, malls and health clubs). It’s even more convincing if they can adorn their pets with one of those fancy vests or collars, readily available at a low price on the Internet.
Not only does this perpetuate a negative view of people with disabilities, it is inaccurate for several reasons. It’s true that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires most public establishments to allow people with disabilities access to their facilities when they are accompanied by their service animals. But if service animals become aggressive or otherwise engage in inappropriate behavior, their handlers can be told to remove them.
The regulations also state that only dogs (and sometimes miniature horses) can become service animals. In addition, service animals are not required to have any documentation and it is illegal to ask for such.
And service animals can do amazing things: They can retrieve and carry objects, they can open and close doors, they can push someone’s wheelchair and detect the onset of seizures, to name just a few.
Contrary to popular belief, service animals are trained to be non-aggressive, relatively non-social and to focus on their owner and virtually no one else. This makes them much safer to the public than animals without training.
Below is a link with more information about service animals:
It’s likely that this would not be so confusing were it not for the growing popularity of another kind of animal – an emotional support animal (ESA). Unlike service dogs, these animals are generally not trained to perform any physical work – they instead provide emotional comfort and ease anxiety and loneliness for their owners.
ESA’s are not covered by the ADA, and therefore their owners are not protected under that law (although they are covered under other disability laws, adding to the confusion). Therefore, ESA owners do not have a right to bring their dogs into most public establishments or government facilities, unless it is otherwise allowed. But it’s not a stretch to assume that once a shop owner is told that an animal is a “service” or “emotional support” animal, the owner would much prefer to let the animal enter than to face potential legal action – especially since they may not understand the law they are accused of violating.
This has created confusion and even animosity towards the law and the people who are intended to benefit from it – people with disabilities. And make no mistake – we feel the backlash. That is why many disability rights groups are heartily supporting the efforts of 19 states in making it illegal to falsely represent that a dog is a service animal. See the link below for details:
Do you agree that there should be laws making it criminal to falsely represent that a dog is a service snimal?
What has been your experience with service snimals – real or invented?
Please leave a comment and tell us what you think!