It’s National Assistance Dog Week
This week it’s time to honor assistance dogs and all the work they do to enrich the lives of people with disabilities. A “service animal” as defined by The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability.” The service dog concept was introduced in 1975 by Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). They defined service dogs as highly trained to assist people with disabilities by doing specific functions such as opening and closing doors, retrieving items and operating light switches.
This year during International Assistance Dog Week (IADW), August 2-8, assistance dog training groups around the world, including the members of Assistance Dogs International, a coalition of not-for-profit assistance dog organizations setting standards for the industry, are holding events and doing outreach to educate and raise awareness about the harm being caused by untrained pets posing as service dogs.
When these fake service dogs behave badly, people who truly need assistance dogs can face added discrimination and lose access to public places, both violations of anti-discrimination legislation. Recently, more and more legitimate partners of accredited service dogs have been asked to leave businesses, being told that it is because the shop or restaurant has had so many people try to pass off their unruly pets as accredited service dogs, they now suspect all dogs as fakes.
President of Assistance Dogs International, Richard Lord, from Australia, says that many member organizations have reported that fake service dogs have increased dramatically within the last few years. “A major part of the problem is with online sales of service dog jackets and service dog certifications and ID cards,” Lord explains.
Easy access to cards and vests just adds to the ease of committing fraud. The fact that very few countries have national laws around the proper use of a service dog makes prosecution of fraudsters very difficult.
“I understand people love their dogs and don’t want to leave them at home,” says Marcie Davis, Founder of International Assistance Dog Week. “But they don’t realize that pretending their pet is an assistance dog can be harmful to people like me who depend on a service dogs for essential daily tasks at work, in public, and at home.”
Complicating matters in some countries for businesses concerned about the legitimacy of a purported service dog is that only limited inquiries are allowed, according to standards such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Under that act there are two questions that staff may ask: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? And, (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. A business also has the right to ask a person to remove their dog if its behavior is out of control or a threat to others.
Service dogs are more than a vest purchased for a few dollars online. They require years of expert training to perform specific commands and provide calm, reliable assistance to people with disabilities, including veterans and first responders injured while fighting for their country or supporting their community.
Don’t let anyone be denied the benefits of a trained service dog when they truly need them. Help us expose service dog fraud and stop the discrimination it can cause.
When looking for an assistance dog we recommend that you deal with an organization accredited by Assistance Dogs International or the government accreditation body in your country. Please report fake assistance dogs to your local authorities.
Two assistance programs are Paws for Freedom and R.E.A.D. Paws for Freedom is a non-profit established in 2005 that allows children with learning disabilities to train service dogs in the Student Trainer and Retriever Teams (S.T.A.R.T). To enhance the students’ experiences as well as to provide additional training for the dogs, one hour training/educational sessions are held five times weekly during the school year. Each trainer is assigned a puppy and has the responsibility for the care and training of his/her dog. Pairings are based upon the student’s needs, level of maturity and the dog’s temperament.
Public outings and presentations are also planned for the students accompanied by their dogs. When a dog becomes ready for placement, a two-week training camp is held to place the dogs with their disabled recipients. The student trainers are involved in various aspects of the camp so that they can interact with the recipients and see the end results of their training efforts.
Another assistance dog program is the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) program. This program, affiliated with Pets for Life, Inc., seeks to improve children’s reading, literacy and communications skills through partnering of a child and registered pet assisted therapy team. Often children with reading problems lack confidence and fear failure. The dogs are good listeners, don’t judge, and permit the children to work at their own pace. The children view themselves as helping the dog learn and understand the reading material. Participants show improvement in reading and communication skills, higher self-esteem and enhanced social skills.
The R.E.A.D. program is in its 11th year. There are more than 2,000 teams located throughout the US, Canada and Europe.
Materials from Paws for Freedom and R.E.A.D were used as reference for this post