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.

Service Dog Kicked by Airlines Worker

Everyone should watch this video:

You can read the full article here. (Thanks to Carin of Vomit Comet for alerting me to this.)

Updates

The other day I posted about the situation with Snickers the service dog. I saw yesterday that he’s since been reunited with his partner thanks to the judge ruling in favor of the injunction.

Things here are much the same. My mother is currently not speaking to me due to a very involved story. And for once I’m not taking the blame for her being wrong and I’m refusing to apologize. She can just stay mad. That means that my holiday plans have been slightly truncated and I’m kind of relieved. I don’t have to try and whip the house into shape (i.e., finish decorating) or do a ton of cooking and/or baking. In fact, I’m strongly considering deholidayifying the house so I can get some decent cleaning done. But that’s also a lot of work and I’m feeling rather lazy.

Actually, I’m feeling kind of run down. I’ve been battling a sinus thing for awhile now and I think it’s finally decided to turn into an actual thing. I figure if it really is something I can deal with it on Wednesday when I already have a doctor’s appointment scheduled to refill my prescriptions.

Uschi hasn’t been quite her usual self these last few days either, but I think that’s more from losing out on having a playmate again. It’s quite typical for her to be a bit despondent after a long visit with another dog, especially when we spend extended time at Dad’s. And it doesn’t help that we haven’t been doing as much fun stuff since it’s been downright frigid outside.

I hate the cold.

Service Dog Considered a Banned Breed

Saw this retweeted on Twitter [full article]:

Breed Specific Legislation Laws (BSL) have become a growing trend amongst cities trying to ban “bully breeds” from their city limits. A city ordinance which bans pit-bulls in the city of Aurelia, Iowa has caught national attention after the ban kept a service dog from his owner because of his breed.  The ordinance was approved in March of 2008 when a meter reader was bitten by a pit bull.  Due to the fact that several people felt unsafe and that the breed was labeled as being “aggressive” (which is only a matter of opinion rather than fact) the ban was placed which prohibits owners of the breed from having them within the city limits.

The owner of the dog in question is a disabled 64 year old Vietnam Veteran named Jim Sak.  He served for over 30 years on the police force in the city of Chicago, Illinois.  Now that Jim has retired both he and his wife Peggy have relocated to Aurelia so that they could be closer to help Peggy’s mother who is an ailing 87 year old woman.

Jim is now struggling to live his daily life due to the fact that an ordinance passed in the city prohibits him from having his service dog “Snickers” simply because he happens to be a pit bull mix.  Snickers, has been with Jim for five years and is certified through the National Service Animal Registry.  The Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities by giving them the right to own a service dog regardless of their breed.  Snickers happens to be a Boxer, Labrador and Pit Bull mix, but the fact that he is mixed with the banned breed has started a storm of problems for Jim and Peggy.

Jim suffered from a hemorrhagic stroke three years ago that causes him to have spasms on his right side affecting both his hand and leg.  He said that it occurs from doing more activity than he should, or during times of stress.  He is forced to use a wheelchair 95 percent of the day due to his disabilities. Snickers is a service dog and trained to sit next to Jim when he needs assistance and waits for the command on what he is told to do.  Snickers will usually be the one who goes to alert Jim’s wife so that she can help him to get back into his chair.  Jim stated in an article for MSNBC “If I fall on my back I’m a turtle. I just don’t move.” he explained, “I grab that collar…He’ll pull me over by the table and chairs and I can pick myself up.”  He says Snickers is very well trained, and has never hurt anyone. “He has never even growled at anybody. The kids come home from school and would stop and play with him.”The Sioux City Journal reported that said Snickers’ presence allows Jim to be left at home for Peggy to go take care of her mother.  Since Snickers has been gone, Peggy has had to leave Jim at home alone with no one to assist him. Jim has reportedly fallen once, and an emergency call was made to 911 for assistance.

The article notes that first a petition was signed by local residents to enforce the ban and then a council meeting voted that the service dog was not an exception. Jim’s filed a lawsuit, though, and the Animal Farm Foundation is assisting him. The hearing was scheduled for today and I’m very interested in the results of Jim’s lawsuit. As the article notes: “This case has the potential to set a precedent for many others. The number of aging and/or disabled people in America is larger than ever, and service dogs can be an essential tool for this population. The right to live independently and safely is a cherished freedom, so the world is watching Iowa to make sure this freedom is not compromised because of a service dog’s breed or physical appearance.”

Service Dog Denied to Disabled Woman

[EDIT: See also this YouTube video; embedded below, and this blog post.]

A friend emailed me about this yesterday and asked that I share it [original article here]:

PHOENIX – A Valley business faces tough questions from the ABC15 Investigators about thousands in donated money after they deny a disabled woman a service dog.

Amber Steenbock has cerebral palsy. For just a couple of minutes, imagine yourself in her shoes.

EVERYDAY LIFE

“Somebody’s got to get me out of bed,” said Steenbock. “Somebody needs to dress me.”

Her boyfriend, Daniel Stasinski told us how difficult her life can be.

“If there’s no one to open the door for her, she’s stuck indoors,” said Stasinski. “And if she drops something, there’s no one there to pick it up.”

“All my life I had to ask for help,” said Steenbock.

Now, imagine this Chandler woman’s excitement about the possibility of getting help from a service dog.

“I had a feeling that the dog would be able to open up my world in ways that I didn’t know,” she said.

Four non-profit organizations turned her down because of her disability. Then one for-profit business, Arizona Goldens LLC of Mesa said, “Yes”.

RAISING THE MONEY

It would be costly. Steenbock would have to come up with $20,323.84 up front. She would have to sign a contract and raise the money herself. It became her mission.

“It’s kind of ironic that this body has such an independent spirit,” said Steenbock.

She turned to Facebook friends and family like Alaina Schumacher, her cousin in Casa Grande.

“I grew up with her, and I knew that this is something she wanted for a very long time,” Schumacher said.

A high school friend performed a benefit concert in her hometown of Portland, Oregon. They raised about $5,000.

“It was hard work, but I have a lot of good friends and a wonderful boyfriend,” Steenbock said.

Stasinski gave everything he had — $10,000 toward Steenbock’s dream.

According to the contract she signed, she had two years to raise the money. Steenbock did it in less than 6 months.

None of it went to her. Donations went directly into her Arizona Goldens LLC account.

“After they got paid in full, it got very dark,” said Stasinski.

BOOT CAMP

Even though all the money had been raised, Steenbock still did not have a dog.

She had to go through testing. There would be both written and verbal testing. She passed her written test with 83 percent.

Then Steenbock had to go to what the company called Boot Camp training. She said she had no idea what to expect.

“I thought we were going to be sitting down and learning the commands for a while,” she said.

According to Steenbock, that didn’t happen. She told us that the dog wouldn’t obey her because the trainers never left them alone.

“They weren’t listening to me because they were bonded with my teachers,” she said.

Steenbock went to Boot Camp for 5.5 days. And according to Stasinski, she came home crying almost every time.

“There was absolutely no time given for the dog to familiarize themselves with who the actual owner will be,” he said.

Steenbock was told that she failed the verbal test. Not only would she not get a dog, but Arizona Goldens LLL would keep the almost $21,000 she raised.

NO DOG, NO REFUND

Steenbock wanted answers, and so did ABC15.

We caught up with Arizona Goldens LLC after the owners twice refused an interview. We asked why they didn’t give back the donated money.

One of the owners, Brian Daugherty said Steenbock had nine opportunities to pass. He pointed to the contract which states failing the boot camp and the tests meant no dog and no refund.

But the ABC15 Investigators found Steenbock should have expected much more than the 5.5 days of Boot Camp that she said she got.

Steenbock’s paperwork states to expect training to last for six days a week for three weeks. Daugherty told us that those 18 days were for clients with Autism. But, no nowhere on the paperwork does it state only for clients with Autism.

“I care about Amber,” said Schumacher. ”I just can’t understand someone taking advantage of a disabled person.”

Schumacher told us that as a donor, she had no idea about the “no refund” policy because it was nowhere on the fundraising website. The site was set up and operated by Arizona Goldens LLC.

WHERE’S THE MONEY?

So, if the money wasn’t refunded, where is it? The contract states that it goes to “…raising, training and breeding service dogs for other clients.”

We asked the company. Daugherty said, “That’s not what it says in the contract.”

But, that is exactly what it states in the contract.

“These people that we don’t even know,” said Schumacher, “just pocketing [the donations] just feels so violating.”

Stasinski said that Arizona Goldens LLC should not have taken money from donors upfront.

“They shouldn’t be soliciting for the actual dog until they’ve evaluated whether she can even get a dog,” he said.

An attorney for Arizona Goldens LLC sent a five page letter to Steenbock. She shared it with ABC15. The company offered to give her $4,054 in total if ABC15 doesn’t air this story and if she removed statements involving Arizona Goldens from the Internet.

Steenbock refused, and she filed complaints with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau.

She has a message for the people who donated in her name. “I’m not apologizing because I failed. I’m apologizing because Arizona Goldens failed me. They failed you. And hopefully, we’ll be able to get some good out of this.

Here’s the response from Arizona Goldens, L.L.C.

———————-

We also met up with Happy Tails Service Dogs. It’s a Valley non-profit organization that helps owners train their dogs to become service dogs. Instructor Kristi Nolde-Morrissey explains in the attached video.

[Read more…]