Respect the benefits that service dogs provide

Different classes of animals have different rights under the law
by Denni Galloway

They come in every shape, size and color. They provide companionship, unconditional love and valuable life lessons. They assist people with disabilities in myriad ways. In some cases they literally save lives. These amazing creatures are our canine companions – our best friends.

So what could the problem possibly be?

A Register-Guard article last Oct. 11 raised concerns about non-service dogs posing as such to gain public access. It’s a violation of law to represent a dog as a service animal when it is not. Before you identify your dog as a service animal, please consider the negative effects on those who truly need service dogs.

Folks may not be aware of which dogs have what rights under the law.

Service dogs

These are trained in obedience and to perform tasks that their humans cannot do without assistance, allowing people with physical or psychiatric disabilities to enjoy independence that they might not have otherwise. They have earned the right to be identified as service dogs. They may accompany their owner nearly everywhere.

Examples of service dogs are those who “see” or “hear” for the deaf. Some dogs know when their human is going to have a seizure. Others can assist with psychiatric issues.
Under the law, a disabled person may only be asked two questions: Is your dog a service dog needed for a disability? What task or tasks does the dog perform to mitigate the effects of the disability?

Emotional support dogs

These do not have specific training, but help their humans by their presence. Support dogs may help with disabilities such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, emotional support dogs must be allowed in a permanent or temporary residence and in airplane cabins.

To verify a dog as an emotional support dog, documentation in the form of a letter from a health care provider or therapist is required. A sample letter can be found at the website of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Care.

Businesses are not required to allow emotional support dogs on their property. Some may welcome them if asked, and others may not.

Therapy dogs

These are not trained for specific tasks. They need a gentle, even temperament and basic obedience.They must be comfortable with people who may exhibit unusual behaviors. To become certified they must pass a field test, engage in observed visits and have a documented health exam. They can become registered with Therapy Dogs Inc.

Therapy dogs perform their services by invitation only. They don’t have access rights, but some places may welcome them if asked.

They visit various facilities with their handlers to provide comfort to those they visit. Some are trained for crisis response teams. They provide an invaluable service in their communities.

Pets

Unfortunately, these dogs have no access rights under the law. Hopefully one day they will. Here are some key factors that may hasten that process:

Identify your dogs for what they truly are. Use clothing or ID tags if you wish, but please don’t identify your dog as a working service animal when it is not. This will only alienate people and cause difficulties for those who need service animals.

Keep your dog healthy and clean. They deserve the best of care: food, water, veterinary care, exercise, comfort and grooming. Never leave a dog in a hot or freezing car.

Inform the public in a positive manner that healthy dogs don’t present the health risks that some people fear. Scientific evidence shows that children carry more germs than most dogs. Dogs’ mouths have fewer bacteria than human mouths do. They have an enzyme in their saliva that destroys bacteria. We don’t.

Be a good citizen. Clean up after your dog. Don’t allow dogs to jump on people in public. Retrain aggressive dogs and never take them into the community (including dog parks) if they exhibit aggression. Allow dogs to run free only in places that are safe for them. If your dog damages anything, apologize, pay for it and ensure that your dog is socialized and friendly.

Work to change laws so that eventually these wonderful creatures will have access in the community regardless of which category they fall into.

Let’s respect one another and the valuable gifts that all of our canine companions contribute.

Let’s provide loving care to our dogs and work to extend their legal rights of inclusion and access.

The Author

Denni Galloway (denni1956@yahoo.com) is a retired licensing specialist for the Oregon Department of Education who lives in Eugene with her two emotional support dogs. Until he died last July, Galloway’s therapy dog, Otie, was a frequent visitor in nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities.

(This article was originally printed in the Jan. 23, 2014, (Eugene) Register-Guard and was reprinted in the (Klamath Falls) Herald and News on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014.)