I don’t know, do you?
Just the other day in one of the many pet sitter Facebook groups I contribute to, a old friend brought up the subject of creating a system for reporting people that abuse the service dog system. It is an issue, because of laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) it is illegal to ask about someone’s medical condition as this is considered private and protected information. Service animals tend to be needed in relation to a medical condition so therefore they have fallen under this protection. There are people out there that abuse this system. Since it’s illegal to ask what is wrong with the person, asking why they have the dog would divulge private medical information, some people will walk into establishments where animals like dogs are prohibited but use the HIPAA protection to claim that their otherwise pet – is a service animal.
Here’s the deal, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs are defined as; “ A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Tasks performed can include, among other things, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a sound, reminding a person to take medication, or pressing an elevator button.
Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals either. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. It does not matter if a person has a note from a doctor that states that the person has a disability and needs to have the animal for emotional support. A doctor’s letter does not turn an animal into a service animal.”
This makes it sound pretty cut and dry and being a rule following type of person, I would get irritated when I would see someone that I decided was claiming their pet to be a service dog in a place that didn’t allow pets. For example, the woman in the café with the Yorkie climbing all over her (and me) to get food, then barking. The guy that came into Starbucks with his super pulls-on-leash-nails-digging-into-floor-not-wearing-a-service-vest Shiba Inu. But I had an epiphany today, I connected some dots that made me do a 180 on those that might be classified as “service dog rights abusers”, I decided it was ok and here’s why:
A few months ago my husband showed me a video online of a Boxer in Europe that had been left in a hot car while the family shopped at Ikea. I’m certain I could google it to share with you but I cannot watch it again. It haunts me because the dog was suffering immensely. He was gasping for air, his neurological functions were failing yet so many people came to help, they were just too late. The dog was later euthanized because the damage the heat had caused to his brain was irreparable. Why the heck did the family bring him to Ikea to leave in the parking lot? I see this ALL the time at the Ikea near me!
This past summer I had an altercation at a Costco with a man who left his dog on a 90 degree day in his Prius tethered by his leash to the headrest by a choke chain with the windows barely cracked!!!! It honestly couldn’t get any worse, except thankfully the dog was fine. Back then, although thankfully it has changed, In the state of Massachusetts I cannot legally break into his car to save the dog so I called the animal control officer. She couldn’t make it there any time soon but asked if I could have an announcement made over the intercom at Costco. I went in and asked the manager, she said no! So I waited by the car hoping either the ACO or the owner would come back, it had easily been 30 minutes in 90 degree heat, the lab mix was panting heavily by now. The owner arrives shortly after and I ask him if he realizes how hot a car can get? He just laid into me. Started screaming and yelling about how people like me with my “causes” ruin life for everyone else. Thankfully a by-stander who was helping me figure out how to get the dog water came to my defense and started yelling back about how that was animal abuse. It sadly ended with the man still not understanding the danger he put his dog in.
So, my now long winded point of the story is; if people are going to say that their pet is a service dog, such as an emotional support dog then so be it. Let them bring their dog into an establishment instead of being an idiot and leaving them in a hot car. There definitely needs to be regulation of how the animal acts in public, but if it saves a life to let the pet come in, I say let them in.
I will end with the serious fact that this more open system can ruin the reputation of actual service dogs that are trained to assist people with disabilities. If the owners of the pets do not require their pets to uphold appropriate behavior, big issues can arise. We already will have issues with people, who are allergic, and then you have the jumpy dogs; the worst, a dog that bites – leave them at home (not in your car). So while rules and regulations should be put in place to foster proper social pet behavior in public, we should be able to reach a happy medium where less animals die in hot cars and more people feel safer to be in establishments with dogs. Several other countries like Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France allow pets into establishments like restaurants with little to no issues.