10 Things Service Dog Handlers Want You To Know

10 Things Service Dog Handlers Want You To Know

This is an article by a service dog owner explaining some answers on frequently asked questions about these amazing pets from her own perspective.

By: Kea Grace

Many people have a vague sense of awareness that Service Dogs “help” their person and that they’re allowed to be in public, but there’s a lot more to Service Dog handlers and teams than meets the eye. To help fill in the holes, here are the top 10 things Service Dog handlers want every member of the public to know and understand.

1.) My Service Dog Is Working
When you see my partner and I out and about in public, please understand that she’s doing vital work for me, even if she doesn’t “look like” she’s working to you. Just like when you’re working, she just wants (and needs) to be left alone to do her job. Please don’t distract my Service Dog from her job by yelling at her, talking to her, using baby talk at her, touching her, touching her equipment, crowding her, whistling at her, barking at her or otherwise doing anything except politely ignoring her.

2.) My Service Dog Is My Lifeline
Depending on my disability, my Service Dog may be the only thing standing between me and death. She’s my lifeline and she means the world to me. Please don’t distract her from doing her job or her tasks because my life, health, and peace of mind, rests in her paws. If you distract her and she isn’t able to respond appropriately, my ensuing illness or injury is YOUR fault. Please just ignore her entirely and let her focus on her job, which is keeping me safe.

3.) My Medical History Is Private
Please don’t ask me about my diagnosis, try to guess the reason I have a Service Dog, or ask me to disclose my private medical history. Even if you can’t readily tell what my disability may be, it’s really none of your business. Making inquiries about personal information is not only uncalled for, it’s very rude.

4.) I Don’t Always Want to Answer Questions
My Service Dog has made a huge difference in my life, but I don’t always want to stop and talk to every single person who wants to ask me about her. Sometimes, I just want to run a quick errand and go home, just like you. Please keep in mind that almost every person who sees me out in public with my Service Dog wants to ask me about her job, her purpose, her name, her breed, where she was trained, what she does, how old she is, and a plethora of other questions. Please don’t be offended if I’m slightly short or dodge your questions. Most of the time, they’re personal questions anyways and shouldn’t be asked.

 

 

5.) Not All Service Dogs Are The Same
Service Dogs come in all shapes, sizes, breeds, colors, coat types and specialties. You cannot identify one by sight alone and it doesn’t matter if you think my partner doesn’t “look like” a Service Dog. Unfortunately as well, fake Service Dogs are relatively common, and they do a lot of damage to legitimate teams. Please don’t judge my obviously well-trained, well-mannered, quiet, well-groomed, highly responsive Service Dog based on the behavior of an untrained, spoiled pet someone claimed was a “Service Dog.” Behavior tells all, and I ask that you not compare me to any other Service Dog handlers or teams you may know or may have met, because not all Service Dogs are the same.

6.) My Service Dog Is Loved
Please don’t tell me you “feel sorry” for my Service Dog because she has to work all the time. She’s incredibly loved and she does in fact enjoy “time off” so she can just be a dog. She does get treats, she does get to play and sometimes, when she’s off duty, she enjoys getting the “zoomies” and running around in massive circles like she’s lost her connection to the mothership and she’s trying to re-establish the signal. She’s very well taken care of and she’s better off than most pet dogs because she’s well-adjusted, highly trained and well socialized.

7.) My Service Dog Is Medical Equipment
My Service Dog is medical equipment, just like a wheelchair, crutches or an oxygen tank. She is medically necessary and anywhere in public medical equipment is allowed, so is my Service Dog. Additionally, please treat her like medical equipment. You wouldn’t walk up to someone you didn’t know and just randomly start pushing their wheelchair or talk to a little old lady’s cane, so please don’t touch, talk to, pet or otherwise engage with my partner.

8.) My Service Dog Is Protected Under Law
United States federal law protects my Service Dog’s access rights. Federal law allows my Service Dog and I to go ANYWHERE in public people are allowed to frequent. There are no exceptions, and we don’t care if food is being made, it’s a hospital or you don’t want dogs in your business. Federal law gives my Service Dog COMPLETE access, and your opinion doesn’t matter. The only times my Service Dog could be excluded from any public place is if she’s not housetrained or is out of control and I’m not doing anything about it, and neither of those would EVER be an issue.

9.) There Is No Certification Required
There are no papers, documentation, ID, certification, or other required information of any kind for me to have my partner in public with me. Not only is there no documentation necessary, but it’s illegal for you to ask for any. If you’re a business owner and you’re not certain my partner is a Service Dog, then you may ONLY ask two questions: if my partner is a Service Dog, and what work my partner does for me. That’s all. You can’t ask for my private medical information, request “paperwork” or do anything except ask me those two questions.

10.) I’d Rather Not Have A Service Dog
Please don’t tell me you’d “like to have a Service Dog.” In order to have a Service Dog, you have to be disabled as defined by U.S. federal law. Everytime you say, “I wish I had a Service Dog,” you’re saying, “I wish whatever is wrong with you was wrong with me, too!” Also, please don’t tell me you “wish your dog could go everywhere with you.” Again, that requires SO MUCH MORE than you think it does, not the least of which is thousands of hours of training and socialization. It’s not easy and while my partner is completely worth it, I’d rather not need her.

Assistance Animal Classifications and Their Definitions

​Assistance Animal

​“Any 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,” as defined by the ADA.4 “Individuals with a disability may be entitled to keep an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation in housing facilities that otherwise impose restrictions or prohibitions on animals. In order to qualify for such an accommodation, the assistance animal must be necessary to afford the individual an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling or to participate in the housing service or program. Further, there must be a relationship, or nexus, between the individual’s disability and the assistance the animal provides. If these requirements are met, a housing facility, program or service must permit the assistance animal as an accommodation, unless it can demonstrate that allowing the assistance animal would impose an undue financial or administrative burden or would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing program or services.”

​U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (FHEO-2013-01)

​Service Animal

​“Any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. Examples of work or tasks include, but are not limited to, assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing non-violent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and helping persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors. The crime deterrent effects of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.” Miniature horses have been added as a specific provision to the ADA. The miniature horse must be housebroken, under the handler’s control, can be accommodated for by the facility, and will not compromise safety regulations.

Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 (Section 35.136)

Any animal that is individually trained or able to provide assistance to a qualified person with a disability; or any animal shown by documentation to be necessary for the emotional well-being of a passenger… Psychiatric service animals are recognized as service animals, but are considered to be emotional support animals and, therefore, subject to the applicable regulatory requirements, i.e. documentation.

Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and CFR Part 382

Emotional Support Animal

​An emotional support animal (ESA) may be an animal of any species, the use of which is supported by a qualified physician, psychiatrist or other mental health professional based upon a disability-related need. An ESA does not have to be trained to perform any particular task. ESAs do not qualify as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but they may be permitted as reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities under the Fair Housing Act. The Air Carrier Access Act provides specific allowances for ESAs traveling on airlines, though documentation may need to be provided.

Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. Part 3604) and Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and C.F.R. Part 382.117

​Therapy Animal

A therapy animal is a type of animal-assisted intervention in which there is a “goal directed intervention in which an animal meeting specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. Animal-assisted therapy is provided in a variety of settings, and may be group or individual in nature.”

Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and CFR Part 382; AVMA

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