The definition of service animal has grown to include animals whose owners say they provide companionship
Kae Seth wasn’t surprised to read that bus passenger Leroy Morley passed off his pet Rottweiler mix, Max, as a service dog. The president of Guide Dog Users of Oregon says she increasingly encounters “people who try to stretch the letter of the law” to get their pets into buses and businesses.
Peggy LaPoint wasn’t surprised to hear that Marie Kelemen’s service dog, Buddy, was a powder puff of a Pomeranian. The TriMet spokeswoman has heard of “service animals” ranging from big dogs to bunnies on Portland’s trains and buses.
“All animals” can be service animals, LaPoint said. “It could be a goat, not that we’ve ever seen a goat. But there have been rabbits. There have been cats. There have been, I imagine, rodents.”
And it’s no surprise Max and Buddy tangled on the No. 75 bus Sunday. Guide dog owners are used to other dogs sniffing, barking, nipping and otherwise engaging their animals. “Dogs are dogs,” said Joanne Ritter, spokeswoman for Guide Dogs for the Blind, which has campuses in California and Oregon.
The only shocking thing about the canine encounter was its brutal finish: One quick bite as Max exited the bus left Buddy bleeding to death on Kelemen’s lap.
Max was on a leash when he bit Buddy. That would have been fine for a service dog, which is what Morley told the bus driver Max was, but not for a pet like Max.
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Because of the inherent dishonesty of a small group of people, those of us who require and cherish our service animals must ensure that external certification becomes required by law.
ADI provides a certification process for dogs trained by a member professional service dog organization. But what if the dog has been trained by the owner, outside of an organization?
Top Dog is a 501(c)3 charitable organization, just as PAALS is. Their mission, however, is to train people to train their own service dogs. At the end of the 1 year course, the service dog – partner team will be prepared to pass the ADI Public Access Test – and should do so. There is another course beyond this for more advanced tasking. Top Dog has been in existence for nearly 20 years, and is located in the Tucson AZ area. Although it mainly serves the Tucson area, other ways of training for those outside Tucson or even outside Arizona are available.
IAADP – the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners – is supporting a move by the US Department of Justice to redefine service dogs. This definition both broadens the definition, and restricts the definition to exclude dogs that function just as psychological support. The current ADA definition of a service dog is:
Service animals are animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks. Service animals are working animals, not pets.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. This federal law applies to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis and shuttles, grocery and department stores, hospitals and medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks, and zoos.
For all the reasons you can glean from the article and from the linked websites, I support voluntary certification of assistance dogs. A person with a service dog can contact the ADI and with their help find a qualified person in their area to administer the ADI Public Access Test. That certification means a great deal, and helps to ensure that the assistance dog – partner team are about as well-trained and prepared for access to public places as they can be.