Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"Service Dogs Defined"

The definition of a service dog is a dog that has been individually trained to assist the needs of a person with a disability. These animals are prescribed by a doctor. There are many different kinds of service animals. (For the sake of simplifying this a bit, let us refer to service dogs for this article although service animals can come in many different species.) There are mobility dogs, seizure alert dogs, seeing-eye dogs, hearing dogs, autism dogs, psychiatric service dogs... and that is just a sample. Service dogs are allowed full public access. This means the dog is allowed wherever the general public is allowed unless the presence of the dog would "fundamentally alter the nature of the service (goods or what-have-you) provided". For example: Service dogs are allowed into Emergency Rooms with their handler, but not where complete sterile conditions are necessary (like surgery). Service dogs may be handler trained or trained by a dog trainer OR a service dog training facility. A service dog may be certified or may not be. Service dogs must be very well behaved in public places and may be trained to perform tasks for its handler. A service dog is considered to be "adaptive equipment" like a wheelchair would be to someone.
A service dog is NOT the same as an emotional support dog (or pet). An emotional support pet is prescribed simply for emotional support for the individual with a disability. They are allowed access under housing accommodations, but are not allowed the same full public access as a service animal. You cannot take an emotional support animal (ESA) to the grocery store with you, but if you rent, you should be allowed to keep an ESA in your apartment with you. ESAs do not need any special training and do not need to know or perform any special tasks.
A service dog is NOT the same as a therapy dog. A therapy dog is a dog whose primary job is to be a pet for someone who has chosen to train the dog to visit people in hospitals and nursing homes and to assist with some types of therapies. Some therapy dogs assist with physical therapy by performing tricks that the patient must participate in such as throwing a ball for a dog, and then taking the ball from the dog to increase the recovery of eye-hand coordination or an injury to the arm or other illness or injury. Therapy dogs also visit people in medical hospitals, psychiatric hospitals and in nursing homes and provide a friendly, furry face to visit while a patient is spending a lot of time in one of these hospital settings. Most of the places around here require a therapy dog to have special training such as public access certification and obedience training. Therapy dogs are not allowed full public access like service dogs are. Their owners do not necessarily have a disability, just have to be willing to share their pet with others who could benefit from the animal's presence in some way.
All this being said, I was sent a link for Maine Human Rights Commission: Service Animals in Housing and Public Accommodations. What I discovered, much to my dismay, was that the Maine Human Rights Commission has blurred the definitions of these three different jobs: the Service Dog, the Emotional Support Dog, and the Therapy Dog. Service Animal groups from all over the country are constantly trying to clarify the definitions between the job of a service animal from the other two jobs, because people abuse the service animal title, sometimes putting this right for individuals with disabilities to use service animals in jeopardy. The Maine Human Rights Commission has crammed all of these job titles together to mean the same thing, which they do not. Yes there are other terms that may be used to mean the same as "Service Animal" like Assistive animal. I don't know where the Maine Human Rights Commission got their definitions from, but as a well-informed service dog handler, the definitions have been crammed into my brain over and over again from many different service animal resources.
On the other hand, according to the Maine Human Rights Commission, I should not have had to pay extra to keep my two emotional support cats in my new apartment and the landlords should not have the right to even question or deny my cats.
So for those who need to know about service dog laws and definitions, do lots of research, for your state and for your country. Each state is very different. In Canada, each Province is different. Learn the truth about laws and question anything that is not congruent with what you know. I do my best to inform correctly in my blog, but I am no expert. (Sometimes I wonder if the experts are indeed experts though.)

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