Who’s Who in Animals of Service
While most of our four-legged friends provide us with heaping helpings of love and support, some dogs do it for a living. Specifically, here are the three types of working animals — each with specific privileges:
• Service Dog: This type of assistance dog is specifically trained to help people who have disabilities with a specified task. The owners of these dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and are allowed reasonable access to every place the owner may need to go. They do not have to be identified or credentialed by vest or certificate. Only the disabled person is protected by the ADA. Some states have additional regulations to extend these rights to the trainers of service dogs.
• Emotional Support Animal: This companion animal provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. A prescription from a licensed medical or psychiatric professional is required to have an ESA-designated animal. This type of working dog is not entitled to the same level of access granted to a service dog, but is permitted to accompany his or her owner on commercial airplanes. Legally, housing cannot be denied for owning an ESA dog even in developments with no-pet policies.
• Therapy Dog: This type of dog is trained to provide affection and comfort to people in a variety of settings, such as hospitals or nursing homes. While these dogs often enter areas off limits to other dogs in the line of their work with special permission, they do not have any special rights or privileges. However, they must complete specific training (including completion of Canine Good Citizenship skills) in order to be identified as therapy dogs.
Identifying Service Dogs
One area of confusion for many business owners is identifying a legitimate service dog from fake ones. Unfortunately, unscrupulous people are buying fake service dog credentials online and taking their untrained dogs into places only permitted for legitimate service dogs.
Mychelle Blake, chief executive officer of the Association for Professional Dog Trainers, says, “Even though our organization’s focus is primarily companion dog training, requests for service dog training have increased over the last few years, particularly due to the push for people to train dogs for returning veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.”
In the past, service dogs were most often assigned to people with easy-to-recognize physical disabilities, but now there is a rise in demand for service animals for people with psychological issues that are not always readily apparent to the average passerby.
“Years ago, the only time you really saw a service dog was for the blind or a mobility assistance dog, but you would never hear about psychiatric assistance dog,” says Blake, who also worked as a social worker before entering dog training.
A Rise in Knock-Off Service Dogs
This rise in the desire to bring under-trained or even non-authentic service dogs into the public sphere has even created a cottage industry of companies willing to help.
Becky McClintock, of Service Dogs International, points out, “Since there has been a rise in PTSD-trained dogs, you are seeing more groups that are not really legitimate coming forward and finding ways to capitalize on it financially.”
These shady characters, who offer everything from real-looking service vests for your dog, to service certificates, to even psychiatrist notes you can order off the Internet, have lead to a maelstrom of issues for business owners, members of the public and even legitimate service dog owners, who have to combat rising suspicion and discrimination regarding the legitimacy of their claims.
While the temptation to bring your best four-legged pal down to the Target might sometimes seem overwhelming, it’s important to resist. By handling our dogs in a highly legal and ethical way, we help those with genuine disabilities gain acceptance for their service animals.
By Sarah Zumhofe