Being a service dog handler is very rewarding, from what I’ve been told from others. I can’t wait to experience this feeling myself! However, I’ve also been warned about how the general public’s lack of education on service dogs can affect a working team. So, here’s the real deal about service dogs. We’re going to cover the laws, do’s, don’t’s, and more information to help you, my reader, get educated on service dogs!
ADA and Disabilities
People sometimes ask me if I’m “really” disabled. People sometimes doubt the legitimacy of my illnesses and of my being legally disabled. And, I can kind of understand that. My disabilities aren’t visible. And people tend not to believe that a person is disabled if their disabilities aren’t blatantly obvious.
So, let me tell everyone something: a person cannot legally possess/use a service dog unless they’re legally disabled. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) legally defines someone with a disability as: “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”
Service Dogs are Work
Acquiring, owning, training, and utilizing a service dog is many things. It can be expensive, time-consuming, exhausting, messy and frustrating. But is can also be rewarding, cute, funny, enlightening, fun, and full of lessons on patience. But, did I mention time-consuming and expensive?!
Not my First Option
Getting a service dog should not, and for me, was not the first option in terms of mitigating my disabilities. I’ve lived my whole life trying various types of therapies, medications, treatments, and seeing many, many different doctors, therapists, and specialists before deciding that a service dog would be the best option and best next-step for me.
Problems with the Public
Over the last year, I’ve spoken with many service dog handlers. They all tell me it’s nearly impossible to go out with a service dog. It doesn’t matter if it’s to run errands, or any other reason, you are stopped a million and five times by curious members of the public. People try to pet your working dog, take pictures without permission, ask you (the handler) a thousand questions (many of which are very personal and none of the public’s business), and more.
I beg anyone who’s reading this to please, PLEASE go out and educate yourself about service animals. Read the ADA and your local/state laws regarding service animals. PLEASE understand that legally, service animals (dogs or miniature horses) are the equivalent of medical equipment. Legally, they are the same thing as a wheelchair, an IV pole, an insulin pump, etc. You wouldn’t go up to someone who uses a wheelchair and start touching the wheelchair, would you? You wouldn’t lift up someone’s shirt and start asking questions about their insulin pump, right?
Behavior Around Service Dogs and Their Handlers
Speak to the handler, not the dog.
Be polite. Treat them just like anyone else you see out-and-about without a service animal.
Be respectful if the handler chooses not to engage in conversation with you or politely declines to answer questions.
Furthermore, please be understanding if a service animal’s handler comes across as frustrated, angry, irritated, agitated, etc if you try to speak with them or ask questions about their service animal. They’re simply trying to buy groceries or go clothes shopping or eat at a restaurant. But, because they have their service animal with them, people act like they have an all-access pass to the handler’s personal information, time, often limited energy, and more. Which is not true! You have NO right to any information about the handler or the dog.
Never touch someone’s service dog! Do not ask personal questions about someone’s disability. Don’t take photos of a service dog and/or their handler without asking.
Legally Allowed Questions and Who Can Ask Them
Store owners/managers, police officers, and others of real authority may legally ask the following questions, and only the following questions:
- Is this animal a service animal needed to mitigate the handler’s disability?
- What tasks is the service animal trained to perform?
See this information on the official ADA website.
NO ONE is entitled to specific information about the handler’s disability, medical needs/care/etc, dog’s name/breed/age, whether it’s a “program dog” or an “owner-trained” dog, nor ANY other information. If the handler decides to disclose, that’s their business at any given moment. But as for the public, it’s not your business nor your right to know any information.
So, that’s my PSA on service dogs, laws, respecting handler/animal teams, and more. If you want more information about some of the tasks I plan on training Hartley to do to help mitigate my disabilities, please see that list on my fundraising page.
Thanks for reading, educating yourselves, and for respecting myself, Hartley, and every other service animal team you may see while out in public! We appreciate your keeping your distance.