Thursday, May 19, 2022

Service Dog Myths


I haven't written as many blogs about myths as I wanted to this month.  Sometimes life with disability gets in the way of my best laid plans.  But I wanted to tackle a few common Service Dog (SD) Myths that I hear quite often.  People tend to think it would be so cool to be able to take your dog with you everywhere you go, but they often don't understand really what that means.  Also people commonly believe that SD's only help blind people or people in wheelchairs, therefore people who look OK are either training that dog for another disabled person or they are faking a need for a SD.  And last but not least, people commonly believe that SD's are forced into working and never get a break.  Those are the myths I want to tackle first, how the general public thinks life with a SD should be.

Myth: Seeing Eye Dogs are the only true Service Dogs.

While this is rapidly changing as more and more people are using SD's for a wide variety of disabilities, I still regularly here these questions when out in public with Azul.  "When will he go to his handler or real disabled person?"  "Won't it be hard to give him up once he completes training?"  "It's so kind of you to train SD's!"  The problem with all these questions, which are simple enough is that rarely do people think that I'm disabled enough to need a SD and so I must be training Azul for someone else.

This is why, typically when I'm able, I don't mind taking the time to explain all the many ways Azul helps me in day to day life.  I have no problem talking about his tasks, but that also opens me up to talking about my medical issues.  Not all handlers want to disclose their medical conditions and it's pretty rude of a total stranger in a business to ask for details about a person's medical history.   But that is exactly what all these questions imply for a SD handler with invisible disabilities.

So what is an invisible disability?  This is a term that is growing in popularity and basically means that it is a medical condition that is not easily determined by simply looking at a person.  It's easy to see a person in a wheelchair, or missing a limb, or blind as disabled.  But the American with Disabilities Act defines disability as an impairment that limits a person from doing daily tasks on a regular basis.

Myth:  An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a type of Service Animal.

An Emotional Support Animal can be any type of animal that provides comfort  simply by being present without any required training.  A Service Animal (in the USA) can only be a dog or miniature horse that is task trained to mitigate a person's disability.  ESA's only have access to private housing and often require a letter from a Doctor to be approved.  This allows a qualified person to rent a home in a place that would typically not be pet friendly such as on a college campus or apartment and have the ESA in that living environment.  A Service Animal on the other, under ADA, has access to public access environments when they accompany their human, disabled handler in those spaces, even when that environment does not allow pets.  This would include stores and restaurants that sell food, hospitals, and other places where allowing pets would be against the local health codes.  Health codes vary from state to state and county to county, so you would need to check with the local Health Dept to see if a business is able to be pet friendly or not.  If a business is not pet friendly, only a Service Dog that is task trained to assist a disabled person would be allowed in that business.

Myth:  Service Animals must be trained by a specialized organization or program that provides those Service Dogs to disabled people.

This is totally not true!  While there are some programs and businesses that train Service Dogs, there is no requirement (in the USA) for a Service Animal to be trained by a professional.  Many organizations that train Service Dogs have astronomically high fees often costing the disabled handler more then $20,000 to obtain the animal.  This is unaffordable to many disabled people and there the ADA does not require Service Animals to be trained by accredited programs.  Many disabled people choose to train their own Service Animal with the help of 1 or more local dog trainers and by networking with other Service Animal Handlers who have experience.

There are many more Service Dog Myths out there!  Here is an ADA Link for some common misconceptions about Service Dogs.

(This blog was to be part of the Foolish Follies of April, but I never got a chance to finish it!
Please forgive me for the delay!)

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