Service Animals - Don't get me started
The topic of service animals has been "hot" for quite some time, with the biggest argument being "what defines a service animal and are they allowed the same amenities as other types of service-related animals. We've all been exposed to animals claiming to be "service animals" with many acting in a fashion not in alignment with the "service dog" idology.
The relationship between a service dog and his companion — his partner — is one of mutual respect, trust, honor, faith and complete love. Service dogs can become the eyes, ears, arms or legs to a person in need. They lead, guide and protect.
Service animals are working animals, not pets. The tasks a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person's disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. While any service dog may provide comfort or emotional support to a disabled human partner, in order to meet the federal definition of a service dog, a dog must also be trained to perform tasks or to do work which directly related to the dog's partner's disability.
Our sweet Hazel is a service dog. We spent a lot of time, effort and energy training her with the help from Julie at Paws In Time and Barb, a private trainer, to provide a variety of services that specifically benefits the big guy, namely balance control, opening doors, assistance after falling, and emotional support during a syncope episode.
Hazel is, first and foremost, a working service dog, and a family pet second. She's been known to sneak into bed with our grandson at night and "borrow" any stuffed animal that she thinks is a dog toy. There is no safe squeaker inside dog toys and she sits quietly on guard in the doorway when our grandson takes a bath. Most of her daily schedule is based on hanging out with the big guy, watching him closely "just in case". One of her biggest responsibilities is making sure the big guy gets home on their walks; he sometimes gets a little confused when they get too far from home. Without Hazel beside him, the big guy wouldn't get out of the house during the day and would be far less independent (they're occasionally spotted at Subway enjoying a sandwich).
Hazel is quiet and very serious, mostly because she's ever observant of what's going on around her. Her job is to do whatever she can to protect her biggest responsibility. Case in point: a few weeks back, a neighborhood dog charged the big guy, knocking him to the ground. Hazel moved in to protect him, ultimately getting pinned by the neck by the dog. Her goal was to stay still and not move so that the other dog stayed away from the big guy. Once the dog ran away, Hazel was able to return to the big guy's side, still today occasionally glancing in the direction of where the dog lives and trying to hustle by as quick as the two can move.
The presence of "fake" service animals has increased significantly. We experienced a woman at the airport going on and on about her small dog being a service dog, while whispering to whomever would hear, "I just say that so I can take her wherever I go. They can't ask you legally. I just bought a vest on the internet." We've experienced dogs acting out of control and growling and nipping at people, all behaviors that are not acceptable as a service animal.
How can we combat the problem? A legal form of identification is one option, requiring that both the animal and the handler are both trained and qualified for assistance through an approved agency. A government-issued badge, vest or tag would identify the dog to anyone observing that the animal is indeed in service. Hazel has a photo identification card on her vest and a microchip containing her paperwork and identifying her as a service animal.
Not all service dogs are professionally trained. Many agencies charge fees of $20,000 or more for professionally trained dogs. The waiting lists for grants, scholarships and even the dogs trained for specific disabilities can extend for months or years; we didn't qualify for any of the grants or scholarships available and priority was extended to veterans or children with disabilities. Don't get me wrong, veterans and children with disabilities are a priority; we just had to be creative.
We were fortunate. Through financial support from family and friends, we were able to purchase and train Hazel to specifically meet the physical needs of the big guy; to the tune of nearly $15,000. Training is ongoing. As the big buy's health deteriorates, training is done to provide him with anything that will make his life better. She is a professional couch potato on the winter days where its too dangerous to go for a walk.
The legitimacy of service animals is and will continue to be an ongoing challenge. Regardless, there are a few rules to keep in mind when encountering a service dog: Service dogs are always working; don't disturb them. Don't send your children over to ask to "pet the doggie" or run up and "pet the doggie" and then get mad when I gently tell your sweet adorable child, "please don't touch, the "doggie" is working". Finally, you may not think that I see or hear you, but I still think you're a complete boob when you're making kissy noises from around the corner in an attempt to get my dog's attention. Yes, I know she's beautiful (inside and out) and no, she doesn't bite.