Service Dogs –


Herself Sez: Sorry there haven’t been any posts for the past 2 weeks. We are in South Carolina. This is a post on the fly. Himself is working via computer while I train.

My wife now has a service dog to help her with tasks that she can no longer do because of her arthritis. (Old age is not for sissies!)

There are many things to consider here. We probably all know that service dogs,  including guide dogs for the blind, cannot be denied access to any public facility. What most of us do not know is just what it takes to get one of these helpful animals, and the laws that govern them.

Our dog is from an extremely fastidious and reputable training facility in South Carolina – PAALS – Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services, and that ain’t cheap. Their dogs are carefully screened for health, particularly hips and longevity, for temperament (must be safe and well-behaved in public), and are extensively and intensely trained to obey instantly and behave at all times. The dogs are carefully matched to the personality and needs of the owner. Standard training for all assistance dogs as well as very specialized training for the individual’s particular needs are extensively trained into the dog’s repertoire. Worth visiting their web site: If ya wanna make a donation, that would be very welcome (and tax deductible) also.

Herself sez: No donation too large, no donation too small!! {GRIN} And a comment about PAALS from the partner’s point of view. They are still small – which means they have the time and the opportunity to give much individual attention to the human partners – ensuring that we know the commands (cues), know the behaviors expected, and know to not let the dogs get “sloppy” or not follow through. These are important considerations because letting the dog get “sloppy” on one cue will lead to sloppiness on another and another and another until all the cued responses are sloppy – and perhaps the cues aren’t even followed!

Most people are at least vaguely aware that the ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act) covers these animals in some way. But local legislation is needed to fully cover these animal assistants. Now, as most of you already know, I’m a pretty conservative constitutionalist who does not like unnecessary laws. However, this is a case where some meaningful legislation is pretty much mandatory to keep abuses from occurring. One of the key abuses that I see happening now is the “pet lovers” who want to be able to take their little darlings everywhere with them. This is a far cry from the working dogs who are providing vital services to the handicapped.

I do believe that people should be able to “roll their own” if they have the skills, time, and motivation. This would mean that you should have the right to train your own assistance animal. Now here is where it gets sticky. Assistance animals must meet a rather strict set of guidelines about public behavior and the services they must be able to provide for their masters. I have seen “certification” and service capes for sale on the internet. How are these dogs tested? They aren’t. You just click a box saying that your animal meets the standards and give your credit card – $249.00 gets you “everything you need”. This just will not do at all. Just as you must pass a test and be licensed to drive a car, or be accredited by a proper medical association to practice medicine, your dog should be properly tested, certified, and licensed before you should be allowed to bring the dog into public places. You know what the consequences of unlicensed animals will be – eventually someone is going to be hurt by an unqualified animal, or improper behavior is going to sour the public on all assistance animals.

Since we should enable people to function to their maximum ability we do need these dogs to be able to appear in public places. One approach would be to say that only certified trainers can provide these animals. That would be a terrible error. We must allow people to have the possibility of training their own. However, there should be a testing procedure, for some reasonable fee, that would insure that unqualified animals are not granted assistance dog status. For that matter, even professionally trained animals should be tested to make sure that they meet the required standards. I don’t know about other facilities, but if they select and train to the same high standards of PAALS there will be no problem passing any reasonable test.

While seeing eye dogs have been around for quite a few years, other forms of assistance are fairly new. One good possibility is offered by ADI – Assistance Dogs International – it is worth visiting their website. Among the things offered is a model law which can be used by local legislatures as the foundation for State Law. They also give an example of the kind of public access test required for service dogs. I would say that this is one fight worthy of your involvement for several reasons:

First, we want to keep the public safe.

These are assistance dogs. They are NOT guard dogs. They must display absolutely no aggressive reactions to people or other animals. They are also NOT pets. Yeah, there is love here. Actually far more bonding and love than occurs with some fat, spoiled, useless “mommy’s darling”. Over hundreds of thousands of years we have bred dogs to help with the tasks of life. A dog who is doing useful work is much happier than one who sits around being bored all day. (So are humans!)

Second, we want to enable all people to function to their maximum potential.

Along this line I want to stress that I don’t buy the paternalistic “Let’s take care of the poor cripples” routine. Nor do I buy the equally objectionable gooey liberal nonsense of “oh, you poor dear, let us do everything for you”. Nuts – as a Constitution-minded conservative my position (the correct one) is “let us remove obstacles so that you may live up to your maximum potential as you see fit”. If we have removed barriers and you still fail, that is your problem. If we have not removed barriers then we have not enabled the Constitution to function properly for the individual and that is our problem as a society.

Third (kinda part of Second),

I have no desire to carry people on my back for their entire lives (or mine). By enabling people who have physical limitations to use service animals properly we enable ourselves to more freedom. Either we kill people who cannot always do for themselves, we provide nursing and assistance care as needed, or we allow people to do for themselves with assistance animals. The last is much more palatable and responsible. (And cheaper!)

Fourth, people using assistance animals need to know proper public behavior and consideration.

We do not want assistance animals eliminating inside. We do not want animal poop all over the public ways. We do not want to be eating our meals and have animals grabbing food (even spilled food), begging, or whatever. I once knew a blind girl who was raised by parents who must have felt guilty or something. They waited on her hand and foot and never taught her decent manners or consideration of others. Her attitude was that the world owed her everything because she was a “poor little blind girl”. She assumed no responsibility for making sure her dog behaved in public and would allow the dog to do whatever he pleased when he was not leading her. This did not make a favorable impression.

Upshot of all of this? We need to make sure that legislation is in place to allow free access to people with service dogs. We also need to make sure that the needs of the public are guaranteed. We can only do both with access laws, proper training, and certification. Check out the ADI site and urge your legislature to pass proper laws to insure both. Only thus can the freedoms and opportunities of all citizens be guaranteed.

Herself Sez: YEAH! Please check out the ADI site and keep an ear / eye out for your state legislature’s work on any ADA / service dog laws! If you have any questions, ask us, and if we don’t know, we’ll ask the people at PAALS and get back to you!!


2 Responses to “Service Dogs –”

  1. handmaidleah Says:

    As one who has trained her own service dog (Top Dog certified) it is incredibly difficult to find any group other than one that specializes in owner trained service dogs (like Top Dog) to do “certification” of basic skills.
    One reason is liability and the other is competition.
    I am fortunate that Colorado has decent laws and that the Federal law (ADA) pretty much covers everything else.
    I have taken my dogs (I have had more than one) up into the St Louis Arch and other quite interesting places for a dog to go. Never had a problem. I currently do not have a service dog for use in public – my lab does quite a bit for me at home though.
    One thing, dogs of any stripe are not allowed in the Orthodox Church, but mine loved going into the Church Hall.
    Best of luck with your service dog, they are indeed a blessing.
    P.S. Arthritis at any age isn’t for sissies!

  2. turtlemom3 Says:

    Herself Sez: Hi Leah, You may want to check out my blog about my service dog – Living With the Woof
    There is a group other than Top Dog that is working with people who train their own dogs to make ADI certification possible. I can’t remember the name, but I’ll post it plus links on the blog mentioned above.
    I think it’s great you are able to train your own. My Emmy had 2 years of intense professional training before I ever got her!

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