We are still talking about an unfortunate trend in the country right now: Pet owners passing off their dogs as service dogs. People with disabilities and advocates say that the practice is making it harder for service dog teams (handler and dog) to go into public places without being questioned. The fault lies not only with the pet owners who want special treatment for their companions, but with Internet companies that are all too willing to sell specially marked “service dog” gear, including vests, harnesses and patches to anyone.
The subject is on point for a Social Security Disability blog for a couple of reasons. First, most states, including New York, have programs that help qualifying individuals pay for food for their service animals. Second, the purpose of this blog is to provide information about social concerns as well as legal issues affecting people who are eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.
Back to the service dog issue: The Americans with Disabilities Act allows service dogs (accompanied by their handlers) to ride public transit, to hop a cab, to attend a ball game and to enter places of business that are open to the public. Service dog teams — the term for the handler and the animal — can go into grocery stores and banks, while companion dogs, even the most well-behaved, must wait in the car or stay tied up outside.
The ADA also protects the privacy of service dog teams by restricting the kinds of questions businesses can ask. In general, a grocery clerk or a bank guard may ask whether the animal is required because of a disability and what special tasks the dog is trained to help the human with. They may not ask for documentation.
We’ll finish up the discussion, especially advocates’ response to fake service dogs, in our next post.
Disability Scoop, “Fake Service Dog Gear Creates Problems,” Kate Santich, Aug. 12, 2013
State of New York, Office of the Attorney General, “Service Animals Frequently Asked Questions,” accessed online (www.ag.ny.gov) Aug. 21, 2013