Monday, September 22, 2008

People Claiming Their Dogs are Service Dogs to Take them in Public Beware

Everyday in the service dog community there are discussions of what to do about people who do not have disabilities passing their pets off as Service Dogs. Furthermore, just because a person happens to have a dog, does not automatically make the animal a service dog [See my previous post What is a Service Dog]. The combination of the presence of a disability, the fact that a dog can be trained to mitigate the effects of that disability, and the facts the animal has been individually trained to performs tasks that mitigate that disability are the key elements to defining whether or not a person and animal comprise a working service dog and are protected under the ADA. People buying service dog gear and passing off themselves and their pets as service animals are not only possibly committing federal fraud, they may also be breaking state and local laws. The definition of fraud according to Free is :

fraud n. the intentional use of deceit, a trick or some dishonest means to deprive another of his/her/its money, property or a legal right. A party who has lost something due to fraud is entitled to file a lawsuit for damages against the party acting fraudulently, and the damages may include punitive damages as a punishment or public example due to the malicious nature of the fraud. Quite often there are several persons involved in a scheme to commit fraud and each and all may be liable for the total damages. Inherent in fraud is an unjust advantage over another which injures that person or entity. It includes failing to point out a known mistake in a contract or other writing (such as a deed), or not revealing a fact which he/she has a duty to communicate, such as a survey which shows there are only 10 acres of land being purchased and not 20 as originally understood. Constructive fraud can be proved by a showing of breach of legal duty (like using the trust funds held for another in an investment in one's own business) without direct proof of fraud or fraudulent intent. Extrinsic fraud occurs when deceit is employed to keep someone from exercising a right, such as a fair trial, by hiding evidence or misleading the opposing party in a lawsuit. (See: constructive fraud, extrinsic fraud, intrinsic fraud, fraud in the inducement, fraudulent conveyance) damages). For further reading on fraud see Fraud.

A person claiming their dog is a services dog may also be guilty of Impersonation which is defined as the "The crime of pretending to be another individual in order to deceive others and gain some advantage."

According to a an article in the San Diego Metro News pretending your dog is a service dog when it is not is punishable by up to six month in jail and a $1,000 fine. Dog Bite Law further defines this California statute.

Many people think they are doing no harm by allowing others to believe their pet is a service dog, au contraire, my dear readers. By actively claiming you are a person with a disability when you are not (this is in fact what these people are doing)you:
  • Belittle the daily difficulties people with disabilities live with
  • Confuse the public and business community as to the purpose of a service dog.
  • Trample on a business owner's right to know that the dogs coming in are well trained,healthy, safe and necessary to their valued customers.
  • Endanger people with disabilities with true service dogs, because while you may love your Fido the standard of health care for a service dog are much more stringent than for pets. If a Service dog gets sick, infested with fleas, or any number of common dog maladies, the service dog is less able to work.
  • Weaken the standards for dogs in public opening the doors for people with dogs who may be extremely fearful or aggressive and are prone to behaviors which endanger us all.
  • Force people with real health problems such as severe allergies to share space with animals who are not groomed and bathed regularly to keep allergens to a minimum.

So before you go out and buy (0r make) that vest, collar, or backpack. Think about the repercussions both legally and ethically. Business owners and their employees may ask three questions according to the DOJ Business Brief:

1. Are you a person with a disability? (though they may not enquire as to the exact nature of the disability)

2. Is that a service animal?

3. What tasks has the animal been trained to perform?

Even if an animal is a legitimate service dog it may be denied access if (1) the animal is out of control and the animal's owner does not take effective action to control it (for example, a dog that barks repeatedly during a movie) or (2) the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

The most common reasons people pass their pets/dogs off as service animals are:

  • To gain access to a public place or service that does not normally allow pets (i.e. a store, restaurant, bus, train, plane)
  • To avoid paying the fees often associated with owning a pet or bring one with you (i.e. licence fees, transport fees, hotel pet fees)
  • To access services offered to those with service animals (i.e. reduced vet/groomer fees)
  • Because they can
Service dogs are not a perk of having a disability nor are they the latest fashion accessory. They are one of the many tools people with disabilities use to perform the everyday tasks of life just like wheelchairs, walkers, canes, medications, hearing aids, white canes and more.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Searching for Gold in California

Katie and her service dog Einstein are on the road this week in Nevada City. They wrote the following for me to share with you:

Here are some suggestions for gold panning with your service dog.First of all please note that all public sites are, well, public. EVERYBODY pans there, so if you come away with a couple of flakes consider yourself lucky. Even the fool's gold is heavily mined, so don't be hopeful for that either. Except for one or two sites none of the areas for public panning are accessible to wheelchairs. Panning takes place in well-bouldered creeks, so if you have mobility issues, bring at least one strong friend along to help you navigate the area. Also bring along plenty of water for yourself, at least one quart for every two hours. That is the minimum I recommend.

Now for the panning process( and maybe some gold). Once you are at the creek pick a spot and park yourself, one place is as good as another. Best time for panning: early spring after the runoff and after a heavy thunderstorm, the rapid flow flushes the gold down. The public panning areas do not allow anything but a pan or your hands, leave the shovel at home. Besides, the silly thing will get in the way while you are slowly making your way to the creek.So, there you are at the creek...preparing to make your fortune... with your ever-ready service dog in tow. Be prepared in advance by making sure your partner has tick repellent on and that you go panning toward the middle of the day, the snakes will be hiding from the heat of the sun. Panning is a wet business, especially if your service happens to like water! Einstein truly appreciated the pan full of water that he could drink out of after the dry, dusty walk up to the river bed. Mind you, he did not much care for the pebbles and sand in the bottom, he cared so little for the debris that he shoved that handy pan right back in the creek to show me how it should be filled for him. He also found it very funny that I should be digging around in the water and being a faithful, trusty, well-trained service dog he helped me dig. I could have sworn German Shepherds did not care for the water...You have options while you pan. Let your partner play in the creek on a long lead. The standard six foot or less leases can be cumbersome, as some of the boulders are two or three feet long and high.

Links about Gold Panning:

Califonia Historic Gold Panning Sites

Gold Panning from a Wheelchair

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Round One:Team Training

Summit is experiencing a unique round of placements this fall two therapy dogs and two successor service dogs. Since therapy dogs teams do not require full public access, nor are the handlers of therapy dogs entitled to full public access, the placement training required is shorter. As for the two of us getting matched with successor dogs, team training for successor placements is usually shorter than for those being matched with a service dog.

This trip covered all the lecture material and some of the group training that is usually covered in the traditional two week training camp. Prior to the day of training Summit sent each person being matched with a dog a binder containing the lecture texts, relevant articles, and a list of commands. By my count Summit service dogs know around 70 commands when they are placed with their new partners. Lecture topics for the day included:

  • The basics of tenets of training
  • A discussion on the merits of classical conditioning
  • The basics of operant conditioning (the primary training approach utilized by Summit trainers)
  • Reading you dog's body language
  • Stress signals in dogs
  • Care and feeding of your new service dog

Since I had to go such a long way for the day's training I resolved to spend as much time getting to know Shilo. The trainers and staff at Summit we kind enough to oblige me. I was even allowed to take shilo for a walk off campus alone! Shilo listens to me quite well when her trainer Sue is either not around or has been off doing other things before I worked with Shilo. Our relationship is still very new and a shepherd's loyalties run deep. If Sue has been working with her or leaves and comes back Shilo still only has eyes for Sue at this point, but there is a glimmer of a relationship already. She is happy to see me, works willingly, and after a bit of time can focus completely on me. I look forward to the second part of our training in October!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Introducing housemates

Today my roommate Leslie, myself and her Guide Dog Cammy drove to Summit headquarters to prepare for tomorrow's team training. I brought Cammy and Leslie so they could have a chance to meet Shilo on neutral ground [See Introducing a New Dog to a Resident Dog Part 1] . I took the chance that Shilo might be at the training center today and stopped by as soon as we got into town. I was pleased to find the a member of Summit staff and Shilo in the office! I asked her if it would be okay for Cammy to come in and meet her soon to be housemate. They took a few minutes to investigate one and other, then the games began! Cammy and Shilo played and played using every bit of space available. I am also please to report Shilo remembered me. I was able to pet her, talk to her and just spend time in her presence today. I look forward to the start training tomorrow and spending more time with her. For more information on the process of Adult Dogs: Adjusting to a New Home.