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Service Dogs – What Everyone Needs to Know [VIDEOS]

Service Dogs
Service Dogs
Mimi Campbell-McDaniel/Townsquare Media

More and more people are finding there are great benefits in using service dogs. Because of this, we are seeing more and more service dogs in public places. We are in one of those defining periods where society is learning how to deal with the changing times.

I am sure you have heard the terrible stories of people being kicked out of restaurants for having a service dog or being treated unfairly. There was even a segment of ABC’s “What Would You Do” covering this very subject.

Taylor Gipson says he was kicked out of a Popeye’s restaurant

I have been using a service dog for a few years now and I have seen the evolution begin. At first I was met with shock (some people even jumped sideways at the sight of my dog) and now that has started to ease and it has turned into curiosity. There are a few things you should know about people using service dogs. Number one is to respect their privacy. When you see someone that has a service dog and they are shopping in a store, don’t stare, don’t feel compelled to ask any questions, just let them be. There is a reason that they have a service dog and you do not need to know why. The dog is working. If you ask to pet the dog you are more than likely taking that dog out of his work zone and taking the person he is helping out of their comfort zone.

Because there has been such an increase in the use of service dogs, the Department of Justice published revised final regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on September 15, 2010, in the Federal Register. These requirements, or rules, clarify and refine issues that have arisen over the past 20 years and contain new, and updated, requirements, including the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (2010 Standards).

As a business, or the employee of a business, the American Disability Act defines what you can ask a person with a service dog. When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask just two questions and they are only to be asked if it is necessary for the course of business, not out of ordinary curiosity. These are the questions that may be asked:

(1) Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability.

(2) What work or task has the dog been trained to perform.

Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

The Department of Justice, in its guidelines for implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act, defines “service animals” as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” This can include “alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.”

According to ADA Regulations, service animals are required to be allowed in establishments that sell or prepare food. “Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals,” according to the guidelines. If someone is allergic to animals, the allergic person and the person with the service dog should be assigned to different locations if possible, the guidelines say.

Here are many of the answers to the questions that many people have about service dogs:

Where Service Animals Are Allowed

Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. For example, in a hospital it would be inappropriate to exclude a service animal from areas such as patient rooms, clinics, cafeterias, or examination rooms. However, it may be appropriate to exclude a service animal from operating rooms or burn units where the animal’s presence may compromise a sterile environment.

Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, for example, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.

A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken.

Establishments that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.

People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated from other patrons, treated less favorably than other patrons, or charged fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals. In addition, if a business requires a deposit or fee to be paid by patrons with pets, it must waive the charge for service animals.

What You Should and Shouldn’t Do Around a Service Dog

DON’T distract the dog or interfere with his job. In order to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities, service dogs must be able focus on either their handler, or the task at hand. Even though service dogs are trained to the highest of standards and typically ignore distractions, they are not infallible. A distracted service dog could slip up on a key part of his job and put he and his partner in danger. Yes, they’re adorable — but remember that distracting a working service dog creates the same dangers that grabbing the steering wheel away from a driver would.

DON’T be offended if a service dog handler will not let you pet their dog. Some service dog handlers have a strict “no petting” policy and some don’t. If a handler doesn’t allow petting, it may be because it would prevent the dog from performing his or her her job correctly. It is up to the handler to decide, on a case by case basis, whether others may pet the service dog.

DON’T be offended if a service dog handler doesn’t stop to chat. Many service dog handlers are happy to answer respectful questions about their service dogs. However, this may not always be possible, as the handler may be in a hurry, may not feel well, or have other reasons not to be able to stop and talk at that moment.

DO keep other pets on a leash and close to you when you’re near a guide dog team. Dogs will be dogs, and even the best-trained service dog may want to play with yours — so it’s best just to walk on by.

DON’T forget that these dogs are special. When their harnesses are on, they’re hard at work. Don’t pet them or feed them treats unless their handlers give you specific permission to do so.

DO treat service dog handlers with dignity. Speak to the handler, not to the dog. Speak to the handler as you would anyone else and do not ask personal questions about his or her disability.

DON’T ask a service dog handler to have his or her dog demonstrate a task. It is in poor taste to ask a service dog handler to cue the dog to demonstrate a task. Service dogs’ jobs revolve around mitigating their handlers’ disabilities, and disabilities are very personal matters. Furthermore, many service dogs do work that is dependent on very specific circumstances that cannot be recreated on a whim.

DON’T not draw unnecessary attention to a service dog team. Pointing, exclaiming things like, “Look, a dog!” and doing other things to make a spectacle of a service dog team are rude and make service dog handlers feel uncomfortable. Allow a service dog handler to go about his or her business just as you would anyone else.

DO trust the guide dog. If you’re in a nearby car when a team arrives at an intersection, give the dog the benefit of the doubt that they’ll be able to get their charge across the street without incident. If you are on a bus or in a business when the team arrives, do not back away or start to scream. That’s just crazy.

DON’T interfere when a guide dog’s handler is giving a correction. Service dogs are highly trained, but sometimes they make mistakes! Corrections might seem abrupt and startle a guide dog, but you can rest assured that the handler has also been properly trained in giving corrections and that he or she would never do anything to hurt the dog.

DON’T ever separate the dog from the handler.

DON’T freak out if the dog approaches or sniffs you. Just politely inform the handler and  do not respond to the dog, no matter how tempting. A responsible handler will respect your rights.

DON’T make assumptions about the individual’s intelligence, feelings or capabilities.

Please be patent. Life with a service dog can be both rewarding and frustrating at times.

Remember, a disability is not who a person is, or who they can become. It may take a little longer, but you’ll find the goals and dreams of the disabled are similar to your own.

Service dogs are chosen for appropriate temperament. They have been, or are being, trained to have excellent manners.

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