Saturday, February 19, 2011

Your Opinion On Service Dogs Does Not Matter

A man in Grand Junction was denied entry into an IRS office because of his service dog. The video is located here.

Comments indicate the man is a "scam artist" and "crazy" as if those terms alone mean he can be denied access to a federal building with his service dog.

Here are things people should know about the federal Americans with Disabilities Act as it applies to service dogs.

Your Opinion On Service Dogs Does Not Matter

Bold-faced for the sake of Truth.

Service Dogs Don't Need Vests. Per the ADA, the only two questions a business or federal agency may ask about a service dog are the following: "Is the dog required because of a disability?" and "What tasks does the animal perform?" That's it. If person says yes and "alerts epileptic seizures"- done and done. A service dog does not need a vest, does not need to be walked with a flat-buckle collar. My opinion, your opinion, on whether a service dog should wear a vest is moot - it is not required by federal law. The second that man produced a doctor's note about his requirement for a service dog is the moment the IRS office should have sucked it up and let the dude in, no questions asked.

Service Dogs Don't Need to be a Specific Breed: Per the ADA, prohibiting certain types of dogs from being labeled as a service dog violates the rights of disabled persons. End of story.

Service Dog Guardians Can Be Asked to Leave if Their Dog Is: uncontrolled by the guardian or not housetrained.

You do not need to like how a small percentage of dogs are illegally labeled service dogs. It sucks.

But it has not nor will it make it any more difficult for persons reliant on service dogs to get by in the world. Trust me, the ADA is not going to become any more restrictive than it already is. That would defeat the purpose of ensuring equal access to all persons. There are always bad apples. Contrary to popular opinion, they do not ruin a bunch - bad applehood isn't contagious. Otherwise, we'd never eat apples. EVER.

It is so important to remember that the ADA levels the playing field a smidgen. It is the most basic of protections - offering equal access to all persons, regardless of physical or "mental" abilities. It ensures that a person in a wheelchair can shop alongside a person not in a wheelchair. It means a person with epilepsy can walk on a cement floor. It means a person with severe, "medical" anxiety can actually go outside in public. These are things I take for granted, that perhaps many of you take for granted. It is why no one's opinion on what constitutes a "service dog" matters. If a person answers yes to that one question and can quickly describe the "work" their dog does - end of story, no more questions allowed. And as long as the dog is not running rampant or peeing everywhere, end of story, no more questions allowed.

I feel this strongly about service dogs, not because I have any immediate personal connection to a service dog and their guardian. I feel this way because we live in an ableist society that values normalcy and encourages those who are "not normal" to just, I don't know, stay inside. That is wrong. And the ADA agrees.

The only real thing I'd love to see changed about service animals has to do with where the dogs come from - more shelter dogs, please!

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