They have evolved with us and became our best friend since the day we domesticated them at least 33,000 years ago. Today they perform amazing jobs and provide amazing companionship for us. One of those is the role of service dog. In recent years, service dogs have become a hot topic in society. I have heard the terms “fake” and “real” service dogs. I say “fake” because by law they could meet the requirement and perform a task, but these are the ones that have little to none obedience and or are passed off as a service dog. Still many people are unclear as to what qualifies as a service dog and what right they do and don’t have.
The American with disabilities Act (ADA) oversees service animal laws. Service dogs are defined by the ADA as dogs which are individually trained to perform a task that alleviates a person’s disability (ADA 2011). Under ADA law the presence alone of a dog or animal is not a service dog. The dog must be trained to perform a task that is related to the person’ disability (ADA 2011). You can only ask 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?” when questioning the authenticity of the service dog (ADA 2011). A disability as defined by the ADA is a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major like activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment” quoted from page 6 (Colman 2015).
The idea to regulate how service dogs are certified is a controversial issue. I believe there needs to be clearer more unified regulations to protect service dog and handler teams from fake service dogs that risk financial, emotional and constitutional harm. This could be done by having one organization that trains all service dogs in the U.S.
There are arguments against having the U.S. requiring services dogs trained by one organization. One includes the accessibility to the disabled will be limited due according to Service Please (Colman 2015). They sate that the disabled tend to be in the lower financial standing (Colman 2015). Then by law a mandatory training and testing would need to be accessible to everyone. They make a comparison to making the process like getting a driver’s license. They argue that “driving is a privilege (Colman 2015) not a right which is what having a service dog is.
But the handler is financially responsible, according to Frequently Asked Questions (ADA 2015) for the dog’s veterinary bills, food and any other expenses to keep it ethically and responsibly healthy, both physically and mentally. If the handler/ owner cannot cover training bills how will they cover these expenses. Regarding accessibility, the ADA considers a service dog as an “auxiliary aid” from page 7 of Service Please (Colman 2015), just like a hearing aid, which would be assumed to be covered a portion by medical insurance. Making it accessible to service training as much as medical treatment.
Without a standard training, these handlers are at risk financially. Because the federal law as of now requires no minimum standards of training, or certification (ADA 2015), the only thing a dog must do is perform a task related to the handler’s disability. The law says nothing about how the temperament of the dog needs to be or to what level of obedience the dog should be at.
There are many organizations out there that charge thousands to tens of thousands of dollars to produce a “service dog” when it might even be aggressive and can’t sit for more than a minute. When taken out in public that dog might show aggression towards people and the handler might not have control of it. Therefore, they will be asked to leave and come back if in control or come back without the dog (ADA 2011). Then there goes that handler’s money, wasted because he can’t bring the dog anywhere.
Another example is one of both financial and emotional stress that has happened because of fake service dogs due to no main training standards. The ADA does not determine which animals can go in the cabin of an airplane. But it can determine which dogs can be called service dogs. Delta airlines alone has reported a 86% increase in animal incidents. Including aggression, urinating and biting (CBS 2018). In addition, there are websites that will send you official looking gear and certification service dog cards for a hundred-dollar fee without even meeting the dog or confirming the handler’s disability. These people take their untrained aggressive dogs on the plane. What happens when that dog shows aggression to a real service dog? Hours of training, thousands of dollars go down the drain. Not to mention that loving bond between the handler and working dog is now come to an end when that online certified “service dog” attacks and kills the real service dog. All because that person took advantage of the loose laws and wanted to take their dog on the plane to vacation.
Likewise, these illegitimate organizations could be sending dogs who are not in the right temperament out in public. Not all dogs are meant for this job. It is unethical to keep an unsocialized dog in the state of constant fear because you want to take it shopping with you. It also poses danger to the dog and the people around it as the fear could escalate to aggression. Having one organization regulated by the ADA would include a proper assessment of the dog’s behavior, temperament and health to avoid this issue. With the proper nature and health, less money is spent on behavior modification, giving a longer working span for the dog.
With all the confusion as to what is a service dog, who can have one and, what they are supposed to look and behave like, the public begins to have misconceptions and aren’t educated enough to know how to handle incidents. let’s say a business owner has had several fake service dogs come in his store and destroy items and defecate over and over. That business owner might grow a prejudice towards service dogs teams. Though illegal, the business owner might then try to ban all animals from his business. But this is a constitutional threat that real service dog teams face with these loose rules that allow fake service dogs to taint the image of a proper service dogs.
The ADA should regulate Service dog laws by creating a main training organization with successful trainers (like Guide Dogs for the Blind) to cease the growing number of “fake service dogs” to protect the people with disabilities to continue the right to have a service dog, and to protect their working dog. This training organization will produce good service dogs who have advance obedience, can alleviate their handler’s disability by performing a task, is well socialized and poses no threat to society or other animals. Society then should have no problem distinguishing between fake and real, and people with disability will have someone they can trust to give them what they are paying for, a lasting companionship and a great working relationship with man’s best friend.
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