Emotional Support Animal

There was a lot of debate surrounding the changes to the ADA in defining a service animal and one of the things that was (and still is) bandied about is the potential for abuse in terms of fake service animals. It’s an issue, though, it’s posts like this one on Tumblr that remind me it’s less of a problem than the more loosely defined emotional support animals (ESA):

5. Dogs make apartment searching hard. Pay $65 and you can register your dog as an “Emotional Support Animal.” No landlord can refuse you.

ESAs are certainly not my area of expertise, but sadly it does seem just as simple as the Tumblr post states to have a pet registered as one. In fact, provided you claim having a disability requiring the use of one you can do so online in a matter of minutes.

However, the facts straight from HUD:

The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from discriminating based on disability, race, color, national origin, religion, sex, and familial status. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications, and state and local government activities.  Both laws contain provisions which address the use of service or assistance animals by people with disabilities.  While the Fair Housing Act covers nearly all types of housing, some types of housing, such as public housing, are covered by both laws

Specifically, the “Notice on Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs” states:

An assistance animal is not a pet. It is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. Assistance animals perform many disability-related functions, including but not limited to, guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds, providing protection or rescue assistance, pulling a wheelchair, fetching items, alerting persons to impending seizures, or providing emotional support to persons with disabilities who have a disability-related need for such support. For purposes of reasonable accommodation requests, neither the FHAct nor Section 504 requires an assistance animal to be individually trained or certified. While dogs are the most common type of assistance animal, other animals can also be assistance animals.

It further stipulates that in regard to a reasonable accommodation the following must be considered:

(1) Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability — i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?

(2) Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?

If the answer to either of those is “no” then a “no pets” policy does not need to be changed.

Public access and fair housing are legitimate issues for assistance dog partners and service animal handlers. Cheating the law to your advantage to aid in your apartment search or avoid a pet deposit is not only reprehensible, it also serves to prove the entire reason it is so hard to find accommodating landlords: the majority of pet owners are irresponsible.

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (#ADBC)

Why hello there, gentle readers! As you’ve likely surmised from the title above, the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is now upon us!

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (#ADBC) And once again I’m playing hostess, which means I get the supreme privilege of choosing the theme for this fifteenth1 edition:

Freedom

The one thing I’ve noticed (and experienced) in many past rounds is that whether the theme is broad or narrow there are always those who have trouble finding something to write about. It is my hope to alleviate that in some way so I’ve thought of this topic in a twofold manner.

The first being interpretations of the topic itself, such as:

  • The empowerment and independence gained through partnering with an assistance dog;
  • The boundaries and limits surpassed when raising/training an assistance dog-to-be;
  • A moment when you felt unburdened;
  • An anecdote about hindrances or restraints and/or how these were overcome;
  • A story about your autonomy in working with or training an assistance dog

Alternately, the second aspect of this topic is the actual state of being free. Meaning that you have no restrictions on what you may write about, whether it’s a previous topic from past editions or a piece you’ve thought up on your own.

[Read more...]

  1. This was mistakenly promoted as the “fourteenth” edition due to a rogue past edition, but thankfully the Internet never forgets and it was quickly discovered before it could find a fake passport and wander off into parts unknown.

(Im)perfection

One thing that I’ve come to realize after nearly fifteen years working guide dogs is that you can’t really ever be entirely prepared for your first partner. Sure you can talk with other handlers and research extensively and any training program worth bothering with will give you a fair rundown of what to expect if you inquire. But until you actually work with a dog you can’t really know the specifics of what will be important for you. One thing that I was utterly terrified about prior to being partnered with Dolly, my first guide dog, was the specifics of how the matching worked.1 I grilled each school I applied to; I badgered my guide dog user friends; I obsessed about it to anyone that would listen; I even had dreams about it! Mostly I was trying to prepare myself for that possibility I wouldn’t have a match at all or that the dog chosen for me wouldn’t work out for one reason or another. And these are certainly valid things to consider; however, now that I’m a few dogs removed from that I come to realize there really is no such thing as a perfect match.

Yara guiding me down the path by Washington Park LakeDon’t get me wrong, I’m not implying that there is no functional team or that every partnership is doomed. In fact, I think all of my guides were exceptionally well matched with me and I’d even go so far as to edge one out as “the best.”2 Honestly, even with all the information the school has at hand it never ceases to amaze me how well the matching between handler and dog can be.

No, what I mean is something far more simple: dogs and people are both flawed. Handlers make mistakes. 3 And no matter how well trained they might be a dog is a dog.

That last bit is where there seems to be the most division amongst handlers. Personally, I want a dog. I love dogs. I grew up with dogs. And that’s about 60% of the reason I wanted to work with a dog. But for every handler that wants a partner with personality — and believe me, I have not been shortchanged in this department — there are just as many that want a laid back companion and certainly some combination in between. What I’ve seen over the years, though, is that those dog behaviors tend to be viewed as flaws and certainly when they manifest in harness as distractions that is rightly so.

I’ll let you in a little secret: whatever you’ve heard from other guide dog users about their dog never needing a correction is totally and completely a lie. I used to be almost ashamed of my skills as a handler and disappointed in my guide dog because I heard this so many times before training, during training and even after training. Yes, seasoned guide dogs and those who have a good foundation of obedience certainly aren’t prone to disobeying the rules of harness work. And certainly some dogs require a firmer hand, especially those new partnerships where the team is still settling in together. I’ve a treasure trove of memories showcasing how obedient my guides each were and just as many “can’t believe she did that” ones. Uschi’s known as the food ninja amongst my family members because she’s managed to steal things that we can’t figure out how she got to without leaving any evidence other than catching her snarfing down the stolen goodies. Yara’s notorious for her escape artistry, including managing to free herself from a Vari Kennel; she also wiggled out of her harness so many times I lost count. And, well, that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.4

Uschi guiding me up an ancietn set of stairs at Schenectady Central ParkTruth is guide dogs aren’t little furry robots. Even in harness mistakes will happen and some of it will be just as much if not more your fault as the handler than your partner’s. Mistakes in and of themselves aren’t bad. In fact, sometimes the scariest walks with your guide dog will be the first time you don’t have to be diligent and you smoothly get from Point A to Point B without a single hitch. It’s exhilarating and something to be proud of, but it’s also kind of disarming and almost eerie because that’s the moment that you really start to realize how deep a level of trust you need to and will place in this dog. Maybe you’ll have that moment very quickly. Maybe you’ll see a sharp and/or steady increase in those times. Maybe you won’t. And that’s always a challenge. Sometimes it’s a clue that the partnership isn’t going to work, but sometimes it’s just a matter of time before it gets there. What’s important is to understand that the need to correct your partner or rework something is only a means of reinforcing those things you want to happen. One big thing I learned between my dogs is how they react to specific corrections. Where one might have needed a firmer hand, another treated the mistake itself as correction enough.

To paraphrase a mantra in yoga: leave the past behind you because it’s already gone, don’t fret about the future because it hasn’t gotten here yet, but be in the present because that’s the moment you’re in and what truly counts. Embracing those moments that aren’t stellar and realizing how they can strengthen your bond is one of the most fundamentally important things I’ve learned over the years I’ve worked with my guide dogs. A real partnership takes work, but this is they type of effort that truly pays off in the end.


This post was written as part of the tenth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. This edition’s theme is “Perfect 10″ and further information can be found here on the founder’s blog.

  1. Southeastern Guide Dogs has a wonderfully informative post on how the matching process works for their school which I do believe is probably much the same across the board.
  2. Though, family, friends and even coworkers of mine have voiced their opinions on this and rarely seem to agree with me, but that is probably at least partially due to bias.
  3. Props if you can spot the one I’m making in the photo on the top right.
  4. I can’t really account for Dolly’s biggest faux pas in dog terms as I suspect she was just a mean little teenager in a Labrador retriever suit because whenever she felt duly wronged she’d very purposefully plow me face first into the nearest door or telephone pole.

Quiet Moments

Anyone even vaguely familiar with Uschi, especially when she’s not working in harness, can attest to her crazy, playful nature. Honestly, living with her boundless energy is both amusing and exhausting. If anything she keeps me entertained, but I am very glad that she is capable of composing herself in harness and focusing on her task of aiding me in safely traveling independently.

Probably when you think of the term “guide dog” you imagine a blind person walking along being led by a harnessed dog. That’s certainly makes sense since that’s essentially what the dog is trained to do. Personally I think that simple act of walking as a guide dog team is both amazing and beautiful. Through leather and steel there’s a connection between handler and dog that even after all these years I still find truly profound and something without equal. But this isn’t a post about any of that. No, it’s a post about a more common part of working a guide dog, but one that’s often not stressed.

Full body shot of Uschi in harness lying on a white backgroundI’ve mentioned many times before that generally the largest part of a guide dog’s working life isn’t spent actively guiding their blind partner, but are more accurately “down times.” Guide dogs spend a lot of time being stationary. They lie under tables and chairs, tuck themselves under counters or even just sit beside their partner while they do any number of things from eat at a restaurant to standing in queue. Basically, they’re being completely unnatural to pretty much every dog that the public may have ever had contact with.

I hear a lot of comments from random strangers that their dogs would never be so well behaved and that they wish they could bring their dogs with them everywhere. But the reaction I love the most is when the person hasn’t even noticed the dog’s presence until I’ve gotten up to move or something. Considering how often the public’s reaction to my guide dogs is more than a little frustrating, it’s simply a welcome treat.

In a lot of ways, though, it’s just as much an example of what it is to be a guide dog as the aforementioned mental image. Certainly there are calm dogs and those who are well trained who, for instance, could lie under a table in a crowded restaurant for hours at a time without any issue. However, in my experience, that’s not the typical dog and it’s most definitely not the normal behavior for Uschi who has spent the vast majority of the time I’ve taken to write this post alternately chasing a tennis ball around the house and barking at all the trick-or-treaters. Goodness knows I could never sit around that quiet for such long periods of times when I was four. Honestly, I probably still can’t some three decades later.

That said, I find that many people don’t quite understand that a stationary working dog is in fact working. It’s not hard to understand given how we view the concept of work. I can’t imagine many employers would condone having a workday that accomplished nothing and merely consisted of sitting quietly. Of course, the converse is equally true and an employee who is disobedient and not fulfilling their duties wouldn’t be tolerated. Which is precisely why a guide dog “just sitting there” is actually working just as much as if she were leading her handler across a busy intersection.

They may seem less glamorous in relation to the more dynamic and active parts of guide dog work, but these moments of calm, quiet are ones that I truly admire and adore because even during these there’s a trust present. Uschi knows that eventually more actual work is coming — the opportunity to go somewhere or the chance for a car ride — and I have faith that she’ll be a good, obedient companion. Like so much of our partnership, it’s so simple and yet it conveys so much.


This post was written as part of the ninth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival. This edition’s theme is “Moments” and further information can be found here on the founder’s blog.

International Assistance Dog Week

Today through the 11th is International Assistance Dog Week (IADW), which is sponsored through Assistance Dogs International (ADI). In recognition of “all the devoted, hardworking assistance dogs helping individuals mitigate their disability related limitations” I present to you a collage of my guide dogs:

Collage of various photos of my three guide dogs