Monday, November 3, 2008

News: Backlash from dog killing on Portland Public Transit

Last week I wrote about the sad incident were a Pomeranian emotional support animal was killed by another none service dog while riding Trimet in Portland, Ore. Today, not one but two articles appear in reaction to the incident Service animal regulation is desperately needed and Take the menagerie off the bus Unfortunately, anyone could have easily predicted the backlash to such a horrific incident involving not one but two non-service dogs calling for national certification and spreading further misinformation.

In Service Animal Regulation Desperately needed the writer makes the following points that are not entirely true:

While it is true there are no federal standards for what training a dog must have to be a service dog, there are standards relating to the behavior of dogs in the community commonly referred to as local and federal animal control laws which if local authorities had the means and money to enforce properly would go a long way to keeping animals who pose a danger to people and other animals out of public spaces. Also, there are standards established by the Service Dog Community that establish minimum standards of behavior and training for service dogs in public. Recent the Department of Justice responded to those who would like to see national certification: "Some commenters proposed behavior or training standards for the Department to adopt in its revised regulation, not only to remain in keeping with the requirement for individual training, but also on the basis that without training standards the public has no way to differentiate between untrained pets and service animals. Because of the variety of individual training that a service animal can receive--from formal licensing at an academy to individual training on how to respond to the onset of medical conditions, such as seizures--the Department is not inclined to establish a standard that all service animals must meet. While the Department does not plan to change the current policy of no formal training or certification requirements, some of the behavioral standards that it has proposed actually relate to suitability for public access, such as being housebroken and under the control of its handler. " The DOJ then went on to "Expressly incorporate the Department’s policy interpretations as outlined in published technical assistance Commonly Asked Questions about Service Animals (1996) ( and ADA Business Brief: Service Animals (2002) ( and add that a public accommodation may ask an individual with a disability to remove a service animal from the premises if: (1) The animal is out of control and the animal’s owner does not take effective action to control it; (2) the animal is not housebroken or the animal’s presence or behavior fundamentally alters the nature of the service the public accommodation provides (e.g., repeated barking during a live performance); or (3) the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by reasonable modifications. . ."

I would also like to shed some light on why, as I understand it after nearly 10 years as a member of the service dog partner community, the community has not created a national required certification for service dogs.

Outside of obedience the training through to the advanced level, the need to be completely non-agressive, dog traits the make a good service dog vary somewhat on the type of service a dog is trained to provide. There are many examples of the differences in behavior that is acceptable in one type of service dogs and not in another. The most commonly recognized type of service dog, Guide dogs, need to be extremely calm, and focus on the world directly in front of their and their human partner's immediate path. Dogs who have too much energy, want to retrieve everything, or who are too interested in other people may fail to be dog guide; however, some dogs who don't become guides may be picked up by other service dog organizations for the very same traits that caused them to not be suitable guide dogs.

Retrieving is the root skill for many mobility related service dog tasks including opening doors, retrieving drop items, and assisting people with dressing. A dog who has a lot of energy may not make a good guide or mobility dog may just make a great hearing dog. Hearing dogs must have a retrieving drive that they use to discover sounds and return to take their partner to the source of the sound. In a sense they are retrieving their partner and taking them to important sounds. They must also have the energy and drive to respond to sounds anytime day or night making dogs with higher energy reserves and needs attractive candidates. It would be difficult to establish a complete list of behaviors that may be appropriate for a service dog in every possible situation related to the person they are serving. For example many people believe that a dog is not well trained unless it walks in a perfect heel on its master's left side at all time. Does this mean a dog who walks nicely on the right due to its handlers needs is not appropriately trained? To some it might. Some dogs are trained to find the nearest person when their partner is in need of emergency help and, yet some people might say that this dog is not trained because it left its handler. Other dogs may emit a bark on cue to get emergency help and attention for their partner. Is this dog less trained?

There are still more issues involved in national certification including what entity would do the certifying? Would there be a fee associated with certifying and registering service animals? How would this fee affect people with disabilities ability to have the service dogs they need? How often would registered service dog teams need to re-certify to ensure task training and disability status are still met? Who would safeguard people private medical information? Do people really want people medical information to potentially become matters of public record? The issue of National certification is far from a simple thing.
The second article Take the menagerie off the bus blames the Department of Transportation for single handedly opening the door for untrained emotional support animals in public and giving them the same access rights as people with fully trained service dogs. This statement is mistaken on both points. Emotional Support Animals are only currently recognized in two sections of the law The Air Carrier Access and the Fair Housing Act. "'emotional support' animals that are covered under the Air Carrier Access Act, 49 U.S.C. 41705 et seq., and its implementing regulations. 14 CFR 382.7 et seq.; see also 68 FR 24874, 24877 (May 9, 2003) (discussing accommodation of service animals and emotional support animals on air transportation), and that qualify as "assistance animals" under the FHA, but do not qualify as "service animals" under the ADA, " according to the DOJ website. Neither of these regulations give people with emotional support animals the full public access rights guaranteed to people with disabilities covered by the ADA whose service dogs are trained to perform tasks to mitigate their disability.

For more information on the changes to the ADA regarding service dogs visit

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