You have probably heard about service dogs, or maybe you have seen them on airplanes or in restaurants, and you might say to yourself, “Why on earth is that man or woman allowed to bring that dog in here.” Perhaps you don’t want to eat dinner in a restaurant where a large dog is tucked under the seat of its owner or walking past you on the way to a table. Maybe you think a service dog will bark on the plane or even bite someone.
I can almost guarantee you that, if it is a real service dog, it will not bother you at all, as long as you are not bothering its handler. A service dog will not bark, bite, or jump on you. Most of the time, you probably will not even realize that the animal is there because service dogs are highly trained, specialized animals. The same is not always true of a companion dog.
A service dog is “. . . individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability (Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 2010).” Please note the heavy emphasis on the word “trained.”
Dogs, such as seizure assistance alert dogs, guide dogs for the blind, or service dogs for people with physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, can dramatically affect the disabled person’s life “ . . .but only if the dog is trained well enough to assist. A dog who is not trained will only make a situation worse,” states Katie Gonzalez, CDT, director of Little Angels Service Dogs and author of several books about training assistance dogs.”
I have wanted a service dog for at least ten years. I have purposely waited to apply for a dog because of the great responsibility that comes with having such a dog—responsibility that extends to family, friends, society, and the dog. I have written a long list of pros and cons about having a service dog; I have edited the list many times, and still, I have not made up my mind about getting one; it is a serious matter. Yet, I know people who decide on a whim to obtain a dog for emotional companionship or for some other reason. Then they go on-line, buy a vest for it, and proceed to call it a service or companion dog, thinking that they have the right to take the dog with them anywhere, no matter how this most likely untrained animal may affect other people. Currently, almost anyone can have such a dog. Laws are changing to accommodate “invisible” handicaps.
I am not against a truly handicapped person from having a service or “companion” dog, but there should be strict regulations accompanying such privileges. For instance, real service dogs undergo extensive training at great cost and time. They are first trained by experts to behave impeccably; they do not bark, except for specific reasons, such as the need to alert others to assist their handler in the event of a seizure. They do not run around or chase other dogs. They know their job is to work for and to assist their handler. These dogs will not even go to the bathroom without permission. They can be taught to go in specific places. After the initial training by an agency, the service dog then trains further with its intended owner or handler. By the time training is complete, the dog will know many signals and commands, which will enable him or her to assist with the specific needs of the disabled person. The ADA provides handicapped people with the privilege of taking their highly trained dog with them to various places in exchange for the understanding that the dog will not disrupt the public since other people also have rights to enjoy their day safely and without harassment.
I have friends and family who have companion dogs. I believe that they derive great comfort from their dogs. However, I have witnessed and heard accounts from trustworthy sources who have seen these cute little doggies walking on tables where food is served, running around, barking excessively, chasing other dogs, and even peeing on a restaurant floor. I’m sorry, folks; this is not right. Real service dogs are trained not to do these things, which can be unpleasant or disruptive to other people. An untrained dog can even be potentially dangerous in some places, such as an airplane.
If people with invisible handicaps want a “companion” dog, they should be required to have training comparable to actual service dogs. Otherwise, the dog is simply a pet wearing a vest. This is unfair to the public, and it is particularly unfair to people with disabilities who apply for, wait for, pay for, and train real service dogs.
Don’t we all get comfort from our pets, and wouldn’t we all like to take our pets with us wherever we go? People who want this privilege must first comply with acceptable standards.
I need a service dog to assist me with many things such as opening doors, turning on lights, bringing things to me that I cannot possibly reach, picking up things that I continually drop, finding my way home, alerting my family in the event of a seizure, helping me to stand up if I have fallen, reminding me to take medications, pulling my wheel chair, and much, much more; the list is extensive. I have been disabled since birth and still am not independent despite years of physical and occupational therapy. A service dog could save my life, and yes, it would provide me with companionship in this sometimes lonely life.
If I do decide to apply for a service dog, I am very aware of my responsibility to the people of the world, and I solemnly promise that I will not deprive them of their right to a safe and serene environment because of my wants and needs.
I encourage others to think about this situation and the way that the ADA laws have been misused in order to accommodate the wants of certain people who do not take on the responsibilities that go with the privilege. Think about it and encourage everyone you know to practice socially appropriate behavioral etiquette for companion animals.