Dad has been super busy this summer and I know you are dying to hear about some more of my adventures, but mom has something important to write about so I am letting her have my page again today.
Recently there was a post in a Facebook group I follow that lead to a discussion about what does and doesn’t qualify a dog as a service animal. Most, though not all, of the feedback was positive and people asked some great questions. I know we have discussed this topic before, multiple times, but it is something that can’t be discussed too much so I thought it was time for another post about service dogs, therapy dogs, emotional assistance animals, and the still growing trend of fake service dogs.
As I scrolled down my Facebook feed the other day I spotted a picture of a gorgeous black dane’s sweet gentle face. The post introduces the dog as the owner’s service dog for her anxiety. I went in to comment about how handsome he is and the first comment I saw was about someone wishing they had a service dane for their anxiety.
This set off alarm bells for a few reasons. First of all, Dan often hears comments from people wishing they had a disability so they could take their dog with them. Ugh. That’s so thoughtless. We have said before that we wouldn’t ever want to give Casper up, but if that meant Dan giving up cerebral palsy and all the other issues that go with it then it might just be worth it. Those people are making light of an issue that has and does shape every aspect of Dan’s life in ways the rest of us can’t even fathom. Additionally, it belittles Casper and other service dogs who are not just pets, but highly trained workers. There is so much we would like to say to those people, but we know they don’t mean harm. They just don’t understand and it will take more time than we can usually spare to educate them so we just smile and nod.
The other part of the comment that hit me hard was the misunderstanding of what kind of anxiety a service dog would be used for. With the stresses of modern life most people have some level of anxiety, but those people have no idea what daily life is for a person with severe anxiety. To have anxiety at a level that will qualify you for a service dog must be a real struggle. Our oldest human child has pretty bad anxiety. It definitely shapes her life in way that make things difficult and complicated. Yet, as bad as her anxiety is she would not qualify for a service animal. That kind of anxiety would likely be paralyzing in some situations. It would also probably play a part in your physical health as well (blood pressure, tremors, blood sugar, pulse, and many things I can’t imagine).
So, when I read that comment I thought of the people who say that to us and I also thought of that dog’s handler and how it made so little of her real struggle.
This is what I chose to write in my comment:
“Beautiful. But just a clarification for others who see this. Typical anxiety does not qualify you for a service dog. It must be extreme to the degree it is a qualifying disability and the dog must perform 2 tasks that help you in daily life, not just make you feel happier. Otherwise it is an emotional support animal which is not given the same rights or protections as a service dog. (This is not meant in any way to question your needs. I just know there are people out there who don’t understand the difference and want to use their pet as a service dog because they have mild anxiety or just are sad. I want to make the distinction to others.)”
I thought my comment through before posting, hoping to educate but not offend. I still was sure I would get some backlash, but after a few hours all that happened was quite a few likes. Then the other shoe dropped. A woman, not the one who the original post was about, replied to me:
“Excuse me, I also have an anxiety Service Dog. She is also a Great Dane. We went through years of training and specific adjustments so that my dog understood how to help me with my needs. Especially the debilitating effects. She does perform several tasks to help me. I also have information from my Dr and specifics from her trainer. Why is it your place to question or feel the need to ” clarify ” for anyone. She’s not selling anything she’s just sharing a picture of her beautiful companion.”
I wish I was the kind of person who could just shake her head and let it go, but I have evolved that much yet. My reply took a while to form because I didn’t want to be insulting:
“I feel it is my place because this is a public post and I am allowed to state whatever I wish, but also because my husband has cerebral palsy and has a great dane as a service dog. We get many comments, as I am sure you do, from people who say they wish they had a disability so they could take their dog everywhere. We make a point to educate people about what that really means and how it is not so simple as just taking your pet with your when you feel like it.
As I said, I was not questioning this service dog, but because one commenter said that they wished they had a great dane for their anxiety I felt it should be clarified. I am quite aware that anxiety can reach a level where a service dog is helpful. For example, my daughter has anxiety but would not qualify for a service dog, whereas one of our dog’s cousins went to a man who has paralyzing anxiety attacks.
Because of all the training you and your dane have gone through I am sure you understand that it is not as easy as just having anxiety and taking your dog with you because of that. There is a huge misunderstanding among many people about what a service dog is vs. an emotional support animal. People who are not educated about service animals can misconstrue this and cause a greater problem for themselves and for those of us with legitimate service dogs.
So, I decided it was a nice opportunity to educate.”
Since posting this last night I have received more likes on both comments and also some good questions about service dogs. I won’t quote each one, but want to use this as an opportunity to reiterate what we have posted in the past.
The ADA released a new document of FAQs this month in an effort to clarify service dog regulations. To read the full document click HERE.
There are a few points I will mention. The most important thing for people to know is that there is no identification required for a service dog. They do not even have to have on a vest. There is no registry or certification. This can cause an issue with people trying to pass their pets off as service animals, but the complications of requiring a formal ID or registration could be a burden to the handlers and is a hot button issue that I won’t get into. Places of business are allowed to ask two questions to determine the validity of a service animal:
“In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.”
(From the July 2015 ‘Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA’ document)
The other questions I will mention here apply specifically to the interactions I had on Facebook this week.
“Q3. Are emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals considered service animals under the ADA?
- No. These terms are used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person. Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. However, some State or local governments have laws that allow people to take emotional support animals into public places. You may check with your State and local government agencies to find out about these laws.
Q4. If someone’s dog calms them when having an anxiety attack, does this qualify it as a service animal?
- It depends. The ADA makes a distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals. If the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog’s mere presence provides comfort, that would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.”
Two questions were added to the new document to further clarify the roles of a service animal and help discourage service dog fraud:
“Q31. Are stores required to allow service animals to be placed in a shopping cart?
- Generally, the dog must stay on the floor, or the person must carry the dog. For example, if a person with diabetes has a glucose alert dog, he may carry the dog in a chest pack so it can be close to his face to allow the dog to smell his breath to alert him of a change in glucose levels.
Q32. Are restaurants, bars, and other places that serve food or drink required to allow service animals to be seated on chairs or allow the animal to be fed at the table?
- No. Seating, food, and drink are provided for customer use only. The ADA gives a person with a disability the right to be accompanied by his or her service animal, but covered entities are not required to allow an animal to sit or be fed at the table.”
I have, unfortunately, seen many negative comments online about this new guide so it appears not all of the information has been presented clearly enough for all people. It appears to be written very clearly to me and I feel that it would be impossible to create a document that will please everyone. There are those people who feel their dog allergy trumps the needs of a person with a disability. There will always be those people who feel that all parts of the ADA afford people with disabilities extra rights. And, sadly, there are those people who really don’t understand what a service dog/handler relationship is really like and are convinced that the dog has a terrible life because it has to work. I don’t have the time or energy to address all of that today.
I encourage anyone who has any question about service dogs to read the new guide. It covers all areas that we have been questioned about. If you have more questions we are happy to provide an answer (and if we don’t know we will find out).
Before I end this post I want to touch on one more thing. For those of you who wish they could take their dog everywhere you want, you to really think about what that entails. Perhaps you do have a condition where you would truly benefit from a service animal. Before deciding that it is for you please think it over carefully. A service dog goes everywhere with you all the time. When I hear someone with a service dog has left the dog at home because it was too hot, too crowded, or inconvenient then I know I have either met someone who has a fake service dog or who is not caring for their service dog the way they should. A service dog wants to work and leaving them behind is practically abuse. Does this mean that you may miss out on some things? Possibly. Casper won’t wear booties so when the asphalt is too hot we don’t take him anywhere that he may have to walk around on it. Will will we be in direct sunlight all day with no shelter in the heat? We don’t go. Danes can overheat easily and his black fur makes it even worse. We don’t feel like this is a burden because we love him. Remember bathroom breaks. Wherever you go you have to scope out a good place to take your animal for a bathroom break if needed. And you have to take the dog with you when you go. That is a lot of fun when at a function with only port-o-potties. With a Dane, that just won’ t work, at all. You may not require the handicap stall, but with a large dog you will. Remember food and water. You can’t just get dog food at a drive through. Remember people will constantly want to pet your dog, talk to your dog (ignoring you), step on your dog (even if they are huge and very visible), give you the stink eye, loudly comment about you, point, stare, and more. Can you deal with all of that? Because if you can and you truly need a service animal, they are life changers.
We wouldn’t give up Casper for the world.
For further reading about whether a service dog is for you, this article is a great start.