Have you seen the dog in the service vest, dragging its owner through the mall, or surfing the tables for scraps in the food court? How about the little dog who sits behind you on an airplane, barking? If you haven't experienced this first hand, trust me, it’s happening.
Due to loopholes and lack of screening, our society is seeing an ever-increasing number of illegitimate service animals in public places. Service dogs have an undeniably valuable place in our society today, enabling people with disabilities to live a more independent life. They are required full public access by the ADA under Title II and III. Anywhere their handler goes, the service dog may accompany them. Service dogs need to be specially trained to perform tasks that directly help their disabled handler, often taking from 9 to 24 months. Training is crucial, and must be completed correctly, as handlers often rely on their service animal to keep them safe. A service dog is only appropriate when a person is truly limited or unable to participate in normal activities due to said disability; a trained service animal can provide relief in these circumstances by performing specific tasks or behaviors.
Unfortunately, some people attempt to gain public access for their pet by falsely identifying them as a service dog. There are many websites that sell bogus service dog registration or certification packages, and some will even write false recommendation letters from a “doctor.” This unethical act can give service animals a bad name, and is morally unacceptable.
Similar to a Service Dog, an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is an animal that provides comfort and support to a handler with severe emotional difficulties or disorders. This title as well needs to be taken seriously and represented accurately. Although no formal training is required, an ESA is NOT considered a pet, as they are crucial in providing many with often life-saving support. While ESA’s have the right to fly on an airplane with their handler and live in an “animal free” residence, their rights do not extend to public access. It is important to educate the public on the value and seriousness of the working dogs in our society, and the importance of maintaining the high standards and reputation the service dog community holds. By doing this I hope more people will realize the weight and importance of representing their animal accurately.
Service Dogs are working animals.
• Ask permission before approaching or interacting with a service dog. When working, it is important the service animal does not become distracted.
• Never allow your dog to approach or greet a service dog.
• Be respectful of privacy; refrain from personal questions about the dog’s job, or handler’s disability - not all disabilities are visible.
• Service dogs do not require paperwork, but ESAs require a note from a mental health professional.
Recreational Etiquette for dog owners and handlers.
On city streets and at farmer’s markets; on hiking trails, at restaurants and rec centers; dogs are on the move. At no other point in history have dogs been such an integral part of public life. How does this new inclusion of dogs impact those around us? Whether you’re a dog lover, or frequent canine avoider, most of us agree that with freedom comes responsibility. For those choosing to recreate with dogs it is our responsibility to abide by rules of good judgement and owner etiquette. The rules can be summed up with two old adages: “Do no harm” and “Leave no trace”. And let’s face it, as much as we love our four legged friends, not everyone shares our sentiments.
1) Do No Harm
Is your dog safe? In all likelihood you or someone you know can recount a scary story of meeting an unfriendly dog on a trail or at a public venue. Responsible dog ownership demands that unless your dog has a rock solid recall, they should not be off leash. Even if your dog isn’t overtly aggressive, it is rude to have your dog charge up to hikers or on-leash dogs. To many, being accosted by an off-leash dog is an infringement of their right to enjoy a peaceful walk or bike ride. Unless your dog will return immediately when called in a highly distracting environment, keep them on leash. Not so good recall? Invest in a training class or targeted recall workshop. If you choose to use a flexi-leash, remember to shorten and lock it when passing people and other pets. If your pet is reactive (barking, lunging, etc) step off the road or path and body block your dog’s vision, or retreat to a distance where they are non-reactive.
2) Leave No Trace
Sanitation– Nobody likes picking up poop, but regardless of its location (private yard, public park or wooded path), a responsible dog owner dons the proper protection and scoops that poop! Dog waste is an environmental pollutant. The EPA has placed dog waste in the same health category as oil and toxic chemicals. Dog waste does not just decompose. It carries harmful nutrients and pathogens in the process, polluting waters and transmitting disease. Use biodegradable poop bags to limit your carbon footprint further.
Do your part to be a good steward. Share the trail safely and respectfully, leaving only pawprints and positive memories.