Service Dogs and Public Access

I don’t often cross-post things, but I recently replied to a Tumblr “rant” about service dogs in restaurants and I really wanted to share it here. Plus, it’s International Assistance Dog Week!

The original post, titled “A disservice to service dogs” begins:

Look, I get it. People around here love their dogs, more than children it seems. But do you know what? I do not enjoy dining where your furry friends have been joining you at the table. I mean it’s different if they’re chilling on the ground in the patio being well behaved, that’s different.

Just the other day I answered an ask that is very appropriate to this poster’s feelings about dogs in restaurants. It was about the time I got thrown out of a liquor store because, essentially, the owner didn’t want a dog in his shop despite my rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As I noted in my response on Tumblr, the personal feelings of whether or not a service dog should be in a public place are entirely irrelevant. In my original reply, I used the comparison example of having to share space on public transportation with others who perhaps don’t bathe themselves well enough. Unfortunately, I have to deal with it because they have just as much right to occupy space on a CDTA bus as I do.

The post continues:

Just the other day I was a popular San Clemente restaurant where dogs aren’t allowed, and all of a sudden I hear barking from several tables away! “That’s weird” we thought. The barking continued. We complained to the hostess. But because the dog had a “service dog” tag, they said they couldn’t do anything about it. First off, I could put a raccoon on a leash and it would be better trained than this dog. Second, what a tiny yorkie going to do for you? I  kinda get the idea of an emotional support animal but on a cool morning you could probably take your buddy out to the car if it’s acting up.

The 2010 revision of the ADA included a new definition for “service animals” and it is very clear on public access rights. Service animals are permitted wherever the public is and that includes inside restaurants. However, it is expected that the animal be under control of the handler at all times. Anyone who has ever eaten with me at a restaurant knows that my absolute favorite thing is when we get up to leave and I recall my guide dog from under the table to the surprise of staff and patrons. Why? Because that’s exactly what should happen; it proves she was doing her job the whole time and remained entirely unnoticed by everyone but me.

The service dog referenced was obviously not behaving properly and was causing a disruption to the other patrons. The hostess was incorrect in saying that the staff had to ignore the issues because it was a service dog and in fact they could and should have requested the handler leave.1

The rant continues:

Who am I kidding here; you and I both know this was no service dog. For just 79 dollars you can register any animal as a service animal and get to take your buddy anywhere you want, and those mean people who hate dogs can’t do anything about it. If you don’t want to “register” your dog, you can just buy a service dog ID on Amazon for $15.  It’s stuff like this that gives real service animals a bad name. This is what’s going to get the government to regulate service animals, making life difficult for people who really need them.  Knock it off people.

Actually, what makes it difficult for service animal handlers is misinformation about the law. There is no mandatory registration! And there is also no legal need to have an ID or other certification that your partner is in fact a service animal. Yes, that opens the door for people to waltz fake service animals through the doors of any public place, but if that dog is behaving itself like a real service animal then it’s hardly causing an issue for future handlers.

Additionally, there are many types of disabilities that are not readily apparent to the casual observer. Even as a blind person, which you might think would be terribly obvious to the public, I am constantly queried about what my guide dog does and how she specifically aids me. Likewise there are also many different tasks that service dogs perform. Perhaps this dog was trained to alert to an epileptic seizure or diabetic shock.

Or maybe, just maybe, it was a fake service dog. It’s honestly difficult to prove. And the law is fairly specific as to what is considered an acceptable line of questioning. However, that said, in my personal experience as a handler I find we’re generally pretty tolerant of being asked about our partners. If you aren’t rude or accusatory, you’ll likely have similar results.

  1. The law also stipulates that in such cases, the same goods and services should be provided in the absence of the service animal.

Painting

Because Photoshop can be fun to play with and also I’ve been working on several different web and graphic projects lately:

Portrait of Yara edited to appear as an oil painting

In other news, today registration begins for the yearly National Service Animal Eye Exam. In fact, I just finished registering Uschi and scheduling her appointment for next month.

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.

Department of Justice Proposes Vast Changes in ADA

Recently, the DOJ proposed some rather alarming revisions to Titles II and III of the Americans With Disabilities Act. These changes include:

  • A new definition for service animals;
  • A significant weakening of the readily achievable barrier removal requirement for public accommodations;
  • A significant reduction of elements required to be accessible in state and local government facilities;
  • An exemption for all existing facilities from the new recreation and playground rules;
  • And many others!

IAADP as an organization has already made an official comment regarding the new service animal definition, emphasizing that the following changes be made:

  1. Eliminate the phrase “providing minimal protection” from the definition of service animal;
  2. Eliminate the phrase “do work” from the definition because it is redundant and the example of work given in the NPRM, grounding, undermines the Department’s goal of maintaining a clear distinction between specially trained service animals and those animals whose mere presence can provide emotional support, companionship or therapeutic benefits.
  3. Limit the use of other species only to animals which can be trained to meet the same standards for behavior and training that assistance dogs must meet to qualify for public access.
  4. Avoid placing a size or weight limit on common domestic animals such as assistance dogs.

Further information from IAADP can be found here.

These changes in the ADA, especially the service animal definition, heavily impact the disabled community and I urge everyone to please take the time to add your comments to IAADP’s official comments and/or add to the draft comments from Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF).

Please understand that even though these organizations (and others like them) have made comments that is imperative that DOJ receive your individual comments. We want to flood them with comments and we need the individual’s voice just as much as any large, faceless organization.