Service dogging without a license

H here! Let’s start this post with quiz-time.

You’re a business owner.  Two women walk into your shop with dogs on their shoulders. You ask if they are service dogs. The women respond yes.  What do you do next? 

  1. Ask to see their papers
  2. Ask for their license
  3. Demand to know where their service vests are
  4. Insist the women leave because you have a no dogs policy
  5. Ask what tasks they do

Ready with your answer?  

The only correct answer is #5.

You may argue with the answer, and dog knows plenty of people do, but that is federal law as it exists right now in the United States of America.  Once you understand the reason, it makes a lot more sense.

Let’s go back to a time before the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Anyone with a disability was “accommodated” only by the good graces of non-disabled folks.  Those of you paying close attention have already realized that things historically don’t go very well when a minority has to rely on the good graces of a majority who have no accountability.

That is how things were. It was generally recognized that a blind person needed their seeing eye dog, and so they were tolerated, but other support animals had to rely on the credibility of their handlers and their handlers’ disability in the eyes of the public.  Meanwhile, wheelchair users had to just hope there would be a ramp and an elevator, Deaf people had to hope their lip-reading would be enough to carry them through, and anyone with a disabling mental health condition had to conceal it or be socially shunned.

Then the ADA came along, shepherded by Reagan, signed by Bush, the biggest piece of legislation supporting the disabled ever came from Republican hands.  We’re surprised, too, but we’re also grateful it happened, however it did.  Expansions and clarifications of the ADA since then have greatly improved daily living conditions for disabled Americans, but from the beginning, the ADA allowed for service animals.  More importantly, the ADA recognized that disabled people, as a class, are disproportionately poor. The people most in need of service animals would never be able to afford a professionally trained animal or to hire a trainer.

Two solutions came out of that. 1: a rise in charitable professional training programs, who have long lists, and get to set their own requirements for who needs and deserves a dog most, and 2: the right disabled Americans have to train their own service dog.

As a result of #2 above, the ADA goes on to limit what restrictions and challenges can be placed before a service dog team.  There is no federal agency that licenses or oversees licensing for service dogs.  As a result, there are no official papers or licenses at the federal level.

Requirements for a service dog are:

  • Work for a handler with a disability
  • Take the initiative to do a task or work for the handler that helps with that disability
  • Service dogs are further required to be under the handler’s control at all times
    • Housebroken
    • Not a direct threat to other people, property, or animals
    • Quiet
    • Does not steal
    • Does not stink (regular bathing, which also reduces the risk of triggering allergies)

Proof of a service dog comes directly from the handler answering two questions: is this a service dog needed for a disability, and what task or work does it do?

That’s it.  Further inquiries about disability are in violation of federal health information privacy protections, because disabled people deserve to go about their days without having to answer invasive and personal questions.

Unfortunately, there are easily as many people out there who do not understand laws regarding service animals as people who do, and service animal handlers run into them all the time.

We do.


Stay tuned for my next post: how to handle challenges from people who just won’t Read The FAQ.

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