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    A Reversal of Negative Disturbances in a Working Assistance Dog

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    Assistance dogs provide a great sense of independence for people with disabilities. Many people with disabilities rely on some form of support to assist with day-to-day tasks that are often taken for granted. The amount of independence a trained assistance dog can provide is immeasurable. Everyday tasks like doing laundry, opening drawers and closing doors are things most of us don’t think twice about. Now, add a physical limitation or a wheel chair to the mix and suddenly your life is changed. Over the last decade, people in the United States have had a strong desire to bring their pets with them everywhere they go. This includes restaurants, shopping venues and even family vacations. The problem with this, is the number of pets who are being passed off as service animals and have not been properly trained to behave in public settings. Distractions caused by inappropriate behavior of a pet can become dangerous to disabled handler of a working assistance dog. A change should be made in the legal way service animals are documented, ensuring certification of legitimate working animals to prevent fake assistance animals from having access to places they don’t belong. This change can start the reversal process on negative depictions of disabled handlers and their assistance dogs and allow them to feel more welcome in public settings as well as keeping the handler and dog safe from untrained pet dogs who display improper behavior in public settings.

    Throughout the world, there are many well-established assistance dog organizations. These establishments have successful breeding programs, large volunteer communities and professional trainers who work with dogs for an extended amount of time ensuring they are well-versed and fit to become reliable working dogs for people who will depend on them. These dogs are required to pass specific temperament testing, medical clearances and endure rigorous training programs. Each dog will pass a test proving they are solid on trained skills prior to being deemed an assistance animal. If they do not make the cut, they are quickly adopted out and become wonderful family pets. The recent fad has been to purchase a fake service dog ID and vest, slap it on a family pet and parade around town because the thought of being away from their pet is too much to bare. Being that most house pets are not trained to compose themselves in public settings, the chances of them exhibiting inappropriate behaviors when in stressful environments or situations is high. During times of stress, untrained pets may display signs of aggression or displacement and even toileting accidents. In addition to the distraction it can cause to working dogs, poor behavior and experiences make it difficult for legitimate service dogs and their handlers to be welcomed in various public settings.

    A common misconception with assistance dogs is that they are all working dogs have jobs that are equal, but they most certainly are not. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities” (ADA.gov). Working dogs that would fall into this statement are service dogs, hearing dogs, and guide dogs. Unfortunately, for many people suffering from PTSD or depression, emotional support animals (or ESAs) do not fall under the service animal definition because they do not perform physical tasks as the ADA states, “Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA” (ADA.gov). Claiming a family pet as a service dog is a misdemeanor. Currently, laws are too loose and do not allow businesses and public establishments to verify if an animal is an actual working animal or not. In fact, only two questions can be asked when it’s not obvious why a service animal is needed: Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? What task is the dog trained to perform? Sadly, due to the large amount of negative publicity a business owner can be exposed to. If a situation arises and the animal in question is acting as a service dog role, the business owners can become quite overwhelmed and will often avoid trying to regulate the actual laws which would prevent pets from being in public places. Therefore, many dogs you see in restaurants, shopping centers and even airports are posing to be real assistance animals. Petitions have been created by advocates of the service dog industry to help bring awareness to service dog fraud. A change in legislation would help create new laws to assist disabled people to easily obtain some form of legal identification. This could be as simple as making modifications to the current process one would go through to obtain handicap access permits by adding an additional step for those who depend on assistance animals.

    With all this information, it should be easy to determine a real service animal and it begs the question – Why are there so many pets on airplanes? The fast answer… the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). The ACAA states carriers “…must accept identification cards, written documentation, vests and harnesses, tags or verbal assurance” and if the passenger “seeks to travel with an animal used for emotional support” the carrier is required to accept the animal if the passenger provides current documentation (ecfr.gov). They only need to show documentation. Again, with easy access to fraudulent certifications and doctor’s notes, a service dog can be ready in as little as 15 minutes. This is the problem. Fifteen minute certifications do not prepare an animal to behave and perform in high-stress situations or uncomfortable environments, time invested into proper training does. Remember, the ADA limits its definition of a service animal to one that is trained to perform a task to aid a disabled person and does not recognize ESA as service animals. Unfortunately, there is no requirement that enforces documentation or questioning of what type of working animal is present.

    Since ESAs provide comfort by being present and do not perform physical tasks for their handlers, they are not included as assistance animals by the ADA and are not granted public access. Again, businesses are left to define their own policies on emotional support animals. Companies like Amtrak do not recognize emotional support animals as assistance animals and will not allow them on trains. As Amtrak’s website states, “Service animals are animals that are trained to perform a specific task for the benefit of a person with a disability, and are permitted in all areas where passengers are allowed. Amtrak personnel may ask what task(s) the service animal performs. Animals not trained to perform a specific task, but which are said to provide emotional support or to relive anxiety simply by their presence are considered pets and are welcome on Amtrak if they fit into the carry-on pet guidelines” (Amtrak.com).

    Thankfully, some popular airlines have implemented a new policy requiring a form filled out by veterinarian prior to traveling. The form is basically an animal temperament form and nowhere near being close to a fake certification, but it is a step in the right direction. Ongoing issues continue to arise caused by untrained, fraudulent service animals accompanying their owners on aircraft carriers. As you know, personal events like traveling can be difficult for anyone. So, when a disabled person is preparing to travel, imagine the extra steps they may consider while planning a business trip or vacation with their service animal. Crowded airports and bumpy plane rides can make even the most well-trained animal feel insecure. Significant issues, like aggression and inappropriate toileting, are common when untrained animals are in stressful environments.

    Across the board, there needs to be clear, set laws and repercussions for people who break them. A law needs to be implemented, standard needs to be set and documentation requirements need to be the same for all people with service animals. Something that only can be obtained by people who have a professionally trained service animals or assistance dogs. We need to advocate for people with disabilities and we need to be better about preventing service dog fraud. By incorporating and implementing a new standard, service dog teams would be able to confidently live their day to day lives without worry; companies and business owners will feel more confident when deciding if an animal should be allowed in the environment; and service animals will be able to perform their jobs, reliably working next to their handlers without the distraction of an untrained pet interfering with their work. I support documentation for all service animals.

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    A Reversal of Negative Disturbances in a Working Assistance Dog. (2022, Nov 30). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/a-reversal-of-negative-disturbances-in-a-working-assistance-dog/

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