Social Issues

Service Animal-What’s the Problem?

Life with a disability can be complicated at times. Finding that perfect companion, as an aid with your disability and life, is a gift. Judgments and discrimination, concerning service animals, coming from people I do not know about other disabled people infuriates me. There are laws to protect disabled people, and our service animals, from those that would and do discriminate. Those laws also protect people and places when service animals become a nuisance. For example, getting on tables, jumping on people or taking their food/belongings, barking or licking people for no reason. Sometimes handlers do not always have their training kept up to date with service animal’s behaviour or allows them to do behaviour that is not appropriate for service animals in public; or animals’ period.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities employments, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities.” From the American Disabilities Act website on Service Animals it states requirements for service animals being under control: “Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individuals disability prevents using these devices. ….must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

A service animal goes through training programs to be trained to work in public and not be distracted by outside influences; dogs and other animals, trees, wind, food, kids, vehicles, etc. They are trained to do a service for someone with a disability and then matched with a person that has a matching disability. For example, blind people, those who have seizure disorders, and Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD)-just to name a few. They also go through behavioural training to learn to sit, stand, stay, etc. to have what is called “manners” in the doggy community.

When I got my service animal as a puppy, she and I went to a trainer that trained her and me. She received behavioral training along with fine tuning what service she already did for me. We did not have to train her much in that regard; most of what she does for me has been an instinct on her part. The trainer just fine tuned what we do and how we communicate with each other. The relationship has been like me learning to use another limb that has been attached. It truly is magnificent and gives me a freedom, and security in life, with my disability that is amazing.

When people are condescending to me, charging her, barking at her while lunging at her face, petting her even though I have stated she is working and pulled her back, and all around rude it is very hard to be understanding to them-to explain the laws. Especially when they start quoting what we can do. Seriously?!!! She is sitting down next to me/or under the chair, walking next to me, and not bothering anybody; why must people cause problems when there aren’t any?! They are the ones being out of line and breaking the law; my service animal and I are not and they want to tell me how to act? We have been doing this for 10 plus years and not had any problems in ANY businesses until the last six or so years.

There have been many stories on the news, the last few years, concerning disabled people with service animals being removed from planes. I just read another article, from 2013, about a man and his service animal being removed from the plane. For the trip the man was seated in the middle row with his service animal placed under a neighbor’s seat. There was a long wait on the tarmac and his service animal got up a few times to resettle under his seat during the wait. The service animal was doing its job being by its handler; a legally blind man. The flight attendant felt this was a danger and asked the handler to keep his service animal under control.

“Inquiries, Exclusions, Charges, and Other Specific Rules Related to Service Animals: A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it…When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal’s presence

When I take mine to meetings she gets up two or three times in an hour to sit down at my left side, where she is trained to be. I must tell her back to sit under my chair because there is not enough room next to the chair, usually.

After discussions with the flight attendant the owner became verbally hostile. The plane returned to the gate and the handler and his service animal was removed from the plane. The rest of the passengers followed. There are two sides to the story, both sounding like victims of each other’s behaviour.

What I do know of a business’s policy: no matter what the business has done wrong, when a person(s) becomes verbally abusive-that is the end of discussion and the person(s) is removed. On a plane it is a security risk. While this man wants to play the victim, and he probably has been discriminated against by the flight attendant. This flight attendant, in my own opinion, could have made other arrangements for the handler and his service animal. This could have happened a lot differently. Cooperation with people today seems to be non-existent in our society to make accommodations for other’s needs-mainly this service animal.

I understand his frustration, I do-especially about the service animal. One woman told me how my service animal was supposed to be helping me with my disability. The last I looked she was not my M.D., or the trainer that trained us, so really what does she know? Absolutely, positively nothing. My service animal was doing her job that day, and protecting me from that woman was part of it to de-stress me.

I would hope that someone who fly’s trains their service animal (or pet) to be still while the plane goes through the process of taxiing, taking off, flying, landing, etc. Letting the service animal move while they are waiting is not much of a hassle, or danger, to anybody. Especially since the service animal was trying to do his job by getting to his handler. I take mine on the bus; she dislikes the bus so I keep the rides to a certain amount of time. I know when she has had enough and I respect that limit. In return I get a service animal that acts like a pro on the bus. Only one bus driver knows she does not like it and he helped me train her to ride the bus.

What I have learned in all the years of having my service animal is when I respect her needs, and stay within that, she gives it all she has to me. It is a win win situation for everybody. I think that most of us that have service animals do that. They are a limb for us, and in some ways a lifeline, giving them all we have by taking diligent care of them (protecting them is part of that) is one of the best ways we can give back to them.

Image credits: Featured image, by PJ Hopkins

©Lori Younglove unless otherwise noted.

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