Service dogs in Santa Clara are amazing. They have been extensively trained, live strict but loved lives, and take care of their owners like truly no one else can. The dogs’ abilities to detect seizures, pick up dropped items, and even warn owners of impending stroke or heart attack make these dogs literally life savers.
With all the amazing things these animals can do, it’s no wonder we have learned to accept them in places we usually wouldn’t, like a restaurant or the office. But there is a growing cynicism towards service and support animals in general, and mostly because of misunderstanding, and I’ll admit that I used to be one of these people.
I was not raised in a house with pets, and I never could understand the “emotional support animal“. I could understand a seeing eye dog or a dog that assists with the hearing impaired, but these are obvious needs that a dog could help with. When I would see articles about an emotional support pig or bunny, I would roll my eyes.
The Best service animal laws in California
How Should You Act Around a Service Dog?
How should you act around a service dog?
A person's natural instinct is to pet and play with dogs.
Unfortunately, we must all respect the vest or cape of the service dog and ignore the dog as much as possible. That means not petting it, touching it, distracting it, talking to it, teasing it, or especially feeding it.
So, how should you act? Really the best way and only recommended way is by totally ignoring the dog the same way you would politely ignore a wheelchair or cane.
A service dog that is not ignored may become "ruined" and unusable by its owner, and given that service dogs are both very hard to find for specific conditions and extremely expensive (typically averaging $15,000 each) this can be devastating for the dog's owner.
By violating this etiquette, you have also just helped contribute to the person's loss of freedom and possibly made it necessary for the owner to give up the dog, which would be heartbreaking, and for the person to require the use of a Personal Care Attendant (PCA)—another person shadowing them all the time—to provide some of the services that the dog used to perform.
Service Dog Basics for the Public
Do you have a hard time working around a service dog?
It's very hard for some people to be around service dogs and service dogs in-training because a person's natural instinct is to pet and play with dogs, especially the healthy well-kept dogs who work as service dogs.
Unfortunately, we must all respect the vest or cape of the service dog and ignore the dog as much as possible rather than petting it, touching it, distracting it, talking to it or teasing it, or even looking at it.
When the cape/vest is on, the dog is working
After all, whenever the cape is on, the dog is working hard, whether it looks like it to you or not.
Among other things, the dog is working very hard to ignore you and the tiny morsel of food on the floor over there that looks tasty.
The dog is also focused on its handler, remaining alert for any commands, scents, or hand signals for action.
It falls asleep all the time. How is that "working"?
Most service dogs are trained to catch a nap whenever possible during the day to give them the energy they need when their work is most actively needed.
Napping at strategic times, such as lunchtime and meetings, is a type of work essential for them to do their service dog work; the dog is not in any way "falling asleep on the job" in a negative sense.
So, how should you act?
Really the best way is by ignoring the dog the same way you would politely ignore a wheelchair or cane.
The service dog and its handler try to minimize the distraction the dog provides to the public, but the public needs to learn and obey manners with respect to the dog and the disabled person (or dog trainer) also.
Remember that it's not polite to stare, point, or talk about people.
One thing you should never do
It's very impolite to ask why someone uses a service dog because their disability is private health information.
Benefits of service dogs
Service dogs can be of great benefit to people with all sorts of disabilities, including invisible disabilities like diabetes, asthma, vertigo, and psychiatric disabilities.
Don't assume that a person who "looks good" and is with a service dog isn't disabled just because the disability isn't obvious to you.
Bonus: Service dogs are also a calming, friendly presence around the office or place or business.
Remember, if a service dog's vest is on they are working.
Service dogs are NOT pets, by law, and interfering with a service dog team is actually a crime in most states.
The same manners that apply to a wheelchair apply to a service dog: that's the easiest way to remember what's right or wrong most of the time.
How Do I Certify My Service Dog?
The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) legislation, enacted in 1990, is so vague that it has created two classes of service animals. The first is for animals that perform a specific task - Guide Dogs for the blind, wheelchair assistance, hearing dogs, and animals that can detect medical emergencies, like seizures, and summon help. These dogs have been specifically trained for their service mission.
The problem is the second classification - emotional support animals. All animals - lizards, chickens and snakes - can be designated service animals because they lend emotional support to the owner. In most cases they have no task-specific training. While this definition is currently under review, it has placed an enormous burden on those people who truly have a Service Animal.
Bringing your Service Dog into a restaurant, theater, or other public venue can also create some problems unless you can explain that your dog is allowed access under Federal law. Of course this means that you animal must be suited for crowded environments and trained to act properly around people. This is another case where a Service Dog ID Card will be of value.
Psychiatric service dog
Sadly, some people are asking whether "service animal" laws are being abused by those who want to scam the system.
There have been news stories, articles, opinion pieces and other editorials where people rant and complain about people they believe to be abusing the system. You hear some complain that they had to sit near a dog at a restaurant that they don't believe is a "real" service dog, or others complain that their neighbors have a pet in a "no pet" building because they claimed the animal is an emotional support animal.
Some of the commentary has an indignant tone, and some people are downright angry.
How does this affect those who legitimately own and use a service animal to better their lives? In many ways.
For one, it can it more difficult to navigate bureaucracy of the world when your claim of a disability and your service or emotional support animal's status is questioned. If a landlord or business owner has heard negative stories claiming that some people are abusing the system, it can cause them to look suspiciously at all claimants.
But that percentage of abuse, which in the area of service animal laws is hopefully small, is arguably a very small price to pay when compared to the higher goal of promoting access and equality for all.
In the end, you cannot control any system to make it 100% abuse proof. So tolerating the few people who scam service animal laws is the price we gladly pay to ensure that the disabled in the great state of California have equal access under law.
Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs - What's the Difference?
What's the difference between a service animal and a therapy animal?
A service dog focuses on the needs of its handler. A therapy dog works with its handler to focus on the needs of others.
Service dogs assist an individual with a disability. They're trained to perform tasks that the person cannot perform for him or herself. A few examples might be alerting to the sound of a siren, pulling a wheelchair uphill, retrieving an item from a grocery store shelf, alerting to low blood sugar, or guiding a person down the street. Service dogs focus primarily on the needs of their handler.
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