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The low-down on service animals

In her Monday letter, Irene Steinhardt expressed her disdain for people who are passing off their pets for service dogs so they can take them anywhere in public. While I agree with the overall gist of her letter, she unfortunately spread some common misconceptions about what constitutes appropriate use of service dogs in businesses or other areas where the public is allowed.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, true service dogs are trained to be used by people with permanent disabilities. Permanent disabilities include blindness, deafness and conditions that confine someone to a wheelchair, for example. Permanent disabilities generally cannot be treated or cured with medications or therapy.

Ms. Steinhardt states that her sister-in-law carried a doctor’s note to allow her emotional support dog in businesses; according to the ADA, disabled people cannot be required to carry notes for their service dogs, as this is a discrimination on the disabled.

“Emotional support animals” for depression or trauma are not covered under the ADA and can be excluded from businesses. Ms. Steinhardt also wrongly states that managers cannot ask questions regarding the use of service dogs. Actually, the ADA states that they are legally allowed to ask two specific questions, and can request to have unruly, unkempt dogs removed.

When my family has experienced discrimination in businesses because of bringing a trained seeing eye dog, we’ve had to assert that if they allow grandmas in wheelchairs or veterans with prosthetics to frequent their businesses, they also have to allow a service dog for the blind or they are discriminating against a particular disability and the device used for that disability.

People who cheat the system by buying service dog vests or getting doctor’s notes for their pets are creating hazards for disabled people who truly depend on their service dogs for their health and safety in public. It is not “cute” or “precious” to have their dogs bark, lunge or otherwise distract or potentially injure a working dog. If your dog isn’t working and cannot behave itself in public, please leave it at home and allow the disabled to go about their day in safety and peace.

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