While Americans with Disabilities Act has helped people with disabilities of all kinds find ways to fulfill their potential beyond their disabilities, it has also created a subculture of individuals who co-opt these accommodations for their own ends.
The growing popularity of “pocket puppies,” fueled by images of celebrities carrying their dogs through airports or at nightclubs, has created a desire to take ordinary companion animals everywhere. Because service dog vests and I.D.’s can be purchased online by anyone, this practice is becoming more and more common.
The result? Growing numbers of untrained, ill-prepared animals masquerading as service animals in airports, grocery stores, and restaurants – and business owners who are rightly concerned about any animal in their establishment.
This creates even more difficulties for those with legitimate service animals. While service animals are screened for behavior issues and undergo extensive training, the average household pet is not, and being brought into an unfamiliar and over-stimulating environment like a shopping mall or an airport can bring out the worst, from barking to biting.
At this point in time, cracking down on the practice of using fake service animals is made difficult by privacy laws that are part of the ADA. But persons who use service animals need to be aware of their rights and of the regulations regarding the use of service animals. According to the ADA requirements enacted in 2011, service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability.
When encountering a service animal, business owners, by law, can only ask two questions: “Is that a service dog?” and “What tasks does it perform?” It may be of value to be a little more forthcoming regarding the task your service dog performs to help put the business owner at ease.
Remember, business owners are walking a fine line as well – they must protect the wellbeing of their other customers and their establishment, and they are challenged with determining the true service animals from fake ones with very little information. Educating others about what defines a true service animal and how they differ from “certified” animals will go a long way in continuing the acceptance of service animals for all persons with disabilities.