Loving Them to Death
We take a break this month from our mini-series to address a serious and growing issue – individuals who bring pet dogs into the public space and make false claims that these are their service dogs (SDs). Not only is this practice unsafe for the community, it is also unsafe for the dog.
We are witnessing an unprecedented number of cases where individuals are bringing pet dogs into the public space. In most cases, based on the behavior of the dog it is readily apparent that these dogs have not been trained to perform service work. Despite this, they are taken from the comfort of their homes and brought into unfamiliar places. They are exposed to sights, sounds and noises that can be frightening for a dog not trained to understand and respond. This causes undue stress, which can have a profoundly negative effect on the immune system and has the potential to shorten the lifespan of the dog.
Individuals are bringing their dogs into public, and in an increasing number of cases (as bizarre as this sounds) are pushing the dog in a baby stroller. When questioned, they invent incredible tales of what tasks their dog has been “trained” to perform such as:
- barks if I fall down to tell me I have fallen
- monitors my blood pressure
- alerts to pregnancy
- tells me when it is time to take my medicine
…and more. Not only is it readily apparent to all that these are not tasks, but by these statements individuals appear oblivious to the fact that they succeed only in undermining their own credibility in the community.
Recently an elderly lady arrived at a doctors appointment with her certified SD. As they entered through the main doors, they were startled by barking. From seemingly out of nowhere, two small dogs came lunging at her and her SD. She rushed to try to get in front of her dog to prevent her SD from being attacked, and lost her balance. The dogs owner went flying, scrambling to try to contain the two dogs who were now each moving in a different direction. Fortunately the real SD was able to prevent the woman from a serious fall (and injuries), however it is noted that this could have ended differently. The owner admitted that these dogs were simply pets. No apology was made by the owner to the lady. Scenes such as this have become frighteningly common, and in fact play out again and again each day all over our community.
What is a SD?
The ADA definition is that a SD is a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. Two conditions must be met. First, the person must have a legitimate disability. Next, the dog must be trained. Task training is only a part of that equation, as a SD must have:
- impeccable obedience
- familiarity with the sights and sounds of public and be able to work unobtrusively
- training that permits them to perform tasks designed to mitigate disabilities
A service is not a dog that:
- rides in a stroller
- the owner claims is “so smart” that they figured out (non) tasks on their own
- lacks the comprehensive training noted above
In March of this year the FSDS opened up the doors of our new training facility. Since that time we have received many requests from the public from individuals who seek to purchase a vest. To be clear, our training and certification vests are not for sale. A vest must be earned. Our in-training vests are awarded only to those teams-in-training that have passed the Canine Good Citizen and the FSDS Public Appropriateness Tests and have demonstrated an ability to be safely present in public. Certification vests are awarded only to those teams who complete the entire training process and pass the final Certification Test.
A Service Dog is both a Privilege and a Responsibility
All too often individuals (typically those who masquerade their pets as SDs) become belligerent when challenged, loudly proclaiming that they have a “right” to have their dog with them and immediately threatening to sue. A real SD team tends not to take this approach, as they have been trained how to appropriately address challenges. Having a SD accompany you to assist with those tasks that you are unable to perform on your own, and that can not be mitigated by other means, is a privilege. A legitimate SD handler understands that they have responsibilities:
- to their dog, to protect the dog, care for them and put the best interest of their dog first
- to the general public to train hard and work safely, to abide by all other local and state laws that pertain to all dogs such as leash and licensing, and to provide care such as flea/tick preventive treatments to avoid placing the public at risk for an infestation
- to the larger SD community to avoid any behaviors that will cast a shadow over the community and create challenges for other teams
It is Time to Speak Up
Our challenge to the public – it is time to express displeasure in those cases where a person arrives with a dog that is obviously not a SD. This includes those dogs who arrive with generic vests and patches that declare the dog to be an emotional support dog, or in cases where the dog’s behavior presents a threat to the health or safety of the public. For example, dogs that snarl, growl or lunge at the public, or those purse dogs that are carried and observed to contaminate public food by dropping saliva and dog hair into unpackaged food in areas such as buffets, bakery and produce sections of the grocery and bulk food bins. Absent any push back from the community, this alarming trend will only continue. We challenge all business owners to routinely ask the two permissible ADA questions:
- Is this a SD required because of a disability?
- What work or tasks has the dog been trained to perform?
ADA law clearly states that emotional support is not a qualifying SD task. If a handler indicates that the dog is with them for emotional support, you must deny them entrance into the public space.
Other reasons to exclude a dog from the public space include:
- If the dog is not under control – and the law defines under control as “the service animal has a harness, leash or other tether, unless either the handler is unable because of a disability to use a harness, leash or other tether or the use of the harness, leash or other tether would interfere with the service animal’s safe and effective performance of work or tasks, in which case the service animal must be otherwise under the handler’s control by voice control, signals or other effective means.”
- The dog urinates or defecates in the public space
- The animal poses an undue burden (ie: excessive barking)
- The animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others
- The animal fundamentally alters the nature of the public place or the goods, services or activities provided
Great care must be taken to ensure that challenges are issued only to those dogs that clearly do not meet the mandates of the ADA and are not working safely. Teams that arrive with well-behaved dogs and are working safely must not be burdened.
Though all of the above is true, it appears not to be enough to deter those people who just “love their dogs so much” that they want to take them everywhere. It is best to end with a reminder that if you love your pet dog, leave them home for their own safety. Do not shorten their lifespan by exposing them to increased stress and potential injuries.
Congratulations are in order for military veteran David Lewis and his SDIT “Samson” and Irmarie DelValle and her SDIT “Bruno” for passing their Canine Good Citizen test with flying colors. Four paws up to both of these hard working teams. As the class prepares for public access training, they are starting to venture out of the confines of the facility space and explore the public domain inside of the mall.
We are preparing to start additional training classes this Fall. Interested individuals may contact lead instructor Jessica Parker at our facility at: 602-870-2008.
September marks the official start of Fall, and this month we provide some practical safety tips for all SD handlers.
- Leaves – if you live in an area where leaves will fall, please remember to keep play areas raked. Spiders, snakes and other critters can hide in piles of leaves and present a hazard to your dog.
- Garden tools – should be stored out of the reach of your dog when not in use. Sharp tools that fall over or be stepped on can cause serious injuries to your dogs.
- Gates and fences – when undertaking yard clean-up, this is a good time to inspect fences and gates to make sure they are in good repair to prevent a dog from running off if they are frightened by any noises.
Don’t forget your monthly preventive flea/tick and heartworm treatments, and a friendly reminder to provide a new toothbrush to your dog at the start of each month.
With Sincere Thanks
We wish to express our sincere thanks to the following individuals and organizations who have so generously supported our program during this past month:
- Valerie Schluter
- DAV Auxiliary Unit 1
- Albertson’s / Safeway
- Great American Title Agency