Service Dogs in the News: A little compassion

The Daily Service Dog: How to answer when questioned about your owner-trained service dog
An especially sad article popped up today on our Service Dog Google Alert. Among the daily crop of families and communities across the English-speaking world holding fundraisers to afford a professionally trained service dog was an article about a 62 year old woman forced to live out of her car because the homeless shelter won’t allow in her dog.
She says her dog is a service dog. They say that since she has only cited emotional comfort, the dog is a pet. I realize that our opinion today may be controversial in the current climate of service dog fraud and community vigilantism, but I hope even readers who disagree with me so far will read to the end and consider.
Here’s the article:
Reading the article, the Salvation Army repeatedly reaffirms the right of owners to train their own service dog and the right of service dogs to be accepted with their owners. They also call her dog a pet, because she has only cited the dog’s emotional support.
But I can’t help but wonder, why wouldn’t a service organization dedicated to helping those in need help her with the guidelines for ensuring her dog complies as a service dog?
Many dogs with a natural response to owners’ mental, physical, and neurological health conditions are not difficult for a consistent owner to train as service animals, especially when the owner is disabled enough to be with his or her dog around the clock and around other people and dogs. Giving the owner the information he or she needs to be able to confidently answer “This is my service dog. He/she is trained to…” requires nothing more than a flyer.
This is one of the few situations when the limitations on what a business can ask: “Is this a service dog? What task does it perform?” may be unhelpful for an owner-dog team. Even if the owner has trained the dog to respond to his or her disability, conditioned the dog for appropriate public behavior, and learned to keep the dog under control, giving the wrong answers can result in the dog being denied. The business is under no obligation to inform a handler why their answer did not meet the ADA criteria.
Often, when we talk to owners of self-trained service dogs, they admit to leaving their dogs at home because they are afraid of the challenges businesses issue, and they’re not confident that they won’t say something wrong, leading to a longer confrontation that they are emotionally, psychologically, or even physically unequipped to handle.
It sounds simple. My dog is a service dog. My dog performs medical alert. (A common generalized name for many tasks a variety of service dogs perform.) But add emotional pressure and a confronting authority figure, and it becomes very easy to answer “My dog IS a service dog. He/she is my life. I couldn’t get by without the support he/she provides,” as Barbara Keller did, and the simple interaction becomes an argument focused on the comfort the dog provides.
Not everyone is comfortable or capable of interrupting the conversation to assert “This is my service dog. He/she performs Medical Alert” (or other task), often because of the invisible disability that necessitates the service dog. And the business is not required to reassert “does the dog perform a task?” when the topic becomes comfort.
What to do?
More laws and regulations?
In this climate, probably not.
More education is always a good thing, but in this case, I advocate more compassion. If the dog is well behaved and not acting out, does denying the dog and distressing the owner benefit the business owner or casual observer? What is the motivation behind the movement to doubt every service dog? Is the motivation selfish, or is it compassionate?
That’s a question I’d like to ask the Salvation Army shelter along with asking why they can’t provide basic information to this woman about what qualifications make a service dog so that she can understand whether her dog meets those qualifications or needs to learn more before it will?
Please remember that even an emotional support animal can be taught to become a service animal.
That’s part of our motivation behind creating this blog. Not all disabled people who could benefit from a service dog have the $15-50,000 for a professionally trained service dog from a program. Not all disabled people meet common program qualifications regarding age or the presence of other dogs in the home. Without the help of a program, this is the population most likely to need help navigating their rights and responsibilities as service dog handlers.
Visit our ADA section to learn more about living and surviving in America with owner trained service dogs: