Service dogs in Ventura 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.
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There is controversy surrounding the roles of animals in the lives of people with disabilities or chronic illnesses. Many of us have seen the posts online about registering your animal as an emotional support animal with a small fee, and being able to keep your animal in a no pets allowed setting. This has led people to question the legitimacy of all service animals and their roles. A feeling of distrust among people who do not understand the difference between these animals, and the rights that accompany them, has been emerging as more people utilize these services.
Service Dogs are the most protected and trained of the 3 types of dogs. While many people refer to all 3 types as "service animals", the official names for this type is Service Dog. These dogs are legally considered medical equipment and have a price tag to match, ranging from $10,000- $50,000. They are intensively trained for 1.5-2.5 years, having to pass a variety of tests to be serviceable including, but not limited to, opening cupboards, retrieving dropped objects, staying calm in public, etc.
The last type we are discussing are Emotional Support Animals. This one is the most vague and open-ended. An Emotional Support Animal does not have to have any special training and most of the time is registered by its owner because it brings comfort. Also, an Emotional Support Animal does not have to be a dog. These animals are not protected under the ADA and cannot accompany their owners in establishments where there are no animals allowed. Owners with a registered support animals can keep them in housing that otherwise does not allow pets according to the Fair Housing Act.
Service Dogs Can Assist with Many Invisible Disabilities
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 Animals, Emotional Support Animals, and Guide Dogs
"Why use service dogs for invisible disabilities?" you ask.
Why not? A disability is a disability, and dogs are amazingly attuned to their humans' needs and moods. Is someone with epilepsy helped less than someone with hearing or vision loss? Not if that dog is trained to help them in the unique ways in which they need help.
Even the government is starting to promote the use of service animals for veterans returning with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) because the dog can provide a grounding or stabilizing force for the person with PTSD. Trained dogs can help compensate and care for the disabled person in ways that a routine doctor's visit or medication can't.
Besides, how many people who are blind actually LOOK blind without their white canes? How many people look deaf?
Service dogs, prescribed by a medical doctor, aren't just for certain disabilities, they can be trained to help with MANY disabilities in ways unique to each individual. Examples of invisible disabilities that may be helped by a service animal:
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Chronic pain
- PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
- Brain damage/traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Environmentally triggered allergies
- and many more disabilities!
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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.
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