Respect service dogs

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ast week, a friend of mine needed to go to the Lee County Sheriff’s Department to take care of some routine business.  As she approached the main doors, a security guard raced out and barred her access to the building.

“Dogs aren’t allowed in here.”

“This is my service dog.”

“Service dog?  Does she get a paycheck?  Who pays her?”

The guard and another that joined in insisted that the dog could not enter and told my friend that it didn’t look like she had anything wrong with her.  They asked to see a bracelet that said she needed a service dog and wanted to see the dog’s identification as well.  My friend left the building,  took care of some other business and returned later to a different reception, but the reaction of the guards deeply disturbed both of us.

According to Department of Justice federal regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, a “service animal” is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.  Generally, state and local government services, public accommodations and commercial facilities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go. In a restaurant, for example, a service dog must be allowed in the dining room, bar and restrooms.  As members of the general public are not allowed in the kitchen, however, service dogs could be excluded from this area.

Service dogs are not required to wear special harnesses or vests or to have identification, nor may the service dog handler be asked to prove his disability.

When it is not obvious what service a dog provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask only two questions:  Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. The answer to this question does not have to be extremely specific.  The handler may speak in generalities, such as, “My dog provides me with medical alerts,” or “My dog provides mobility assistance.”  Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

Under the ADA, service dogs must be under control. They must be harnessed, leashed or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

The dog must be housebroken and must not be aggressive toward other people or animals. A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or the dog is not housebroken.

If a business normally requires a deposit or fee to be paid by patrons with pets, it must waive the charge for service animals.  If, for example, a hotel charges a cleaning deposit for patrons with pets, they may not charge for a service dog. Hotels that do not normally allow dogs must allow service dogs.

It is important to remember that all breeds, types and sizes of dogs may be service dogs.  Many people think of Labs, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds when they picture a service dog, and it’s true that many representatives of these breeds are working in partnerships with their handlers.  However, breeds from Mastiffs to Dobermans to bully breeds,  Toy Poodles and Papillions are employed as service dogs.

The friendship and partnership of people and dogs is beautifully illustrated in the relationship between a service dog and his handler. These wonderfully trained dogs allow their handlers independence and the ability to live their lives the way they choose. No service dog owner should be treated as my friend was, yet many handlers find themselves challenged in ways that are illegal, insulting or embarrassing.  Please respect service dogs and their handlers and allow them to function as they are trained to do.

Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.

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