Seriously, after all I’ve been through in the past 2 and a half years since I got my service dog, I have considered making this into a t-shirt. While it should be obvious that a person entering a place of business with a well-behaved, often fully-vested or harnessed, dog at their side has a right to be there with their animal, that isn’t always the case.
On March 15th, 2011 the US Department of Justice revised it’s definition of a service animal. According to the DOJ, under Title II (state and local government facilities) and Title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities) a service animal is:
- A domesticated dog (canis familiaris) and in rare instances miniature horse
- That is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.
A service dog is allowed to go:
- 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.
- Residential homes
- Places of worship
- Some private clubs
This is not known to many but it should be. It is illegal for any public entity to require paperwork from a disabled person with a service dog. That means, there’s no such thing as a “certified” service dog. Sure, there are certifications out there, but they’re mostly private clubs with their own standards of training (Delta society, Assistance Dogs International) or they’re scam certification sights. It is also illegal for any public entity to require that a service dog be vested, harnessed, or otherwise marked as a service dog. In fact, a public entity can only ask two questions to the service dog handler in order to ascertain whether the dog is a service dog:
- is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
After those two questions are answered to the satisfaction of the public entity, the handler must be allowed to continue on his or her way. These rules are to keep random public entities from inquiring about private medical information.
I have only had one physical altercation in my few years of working with Daphne. I was physically removed from The Porto Rico Importing Company in New York, NY. One of the employees there physically removed me and my dog even though I insisted that it was my civil right that I be allowed to shop in peace. Needless to say, I never went back. I considered filing a complaint with the city, but I didn’t have the time or the energy to do it.
A friend of mine, however, had a very harrowing experience in a hospital just yesterday. My friend Lindsay (name changed), works an American Pit Bull Terrier as her service dog. Now, while there is a lot of controversy surrounding the breed, I can personally attest that this dog is impeccably trained, calm in public, and a fantastic, hard worker. Lindsay’s nephew had fallen very ill and she had been sitting in the PICU for six hours supporting her sister and her sister’s sick child. Her service dog was an angel the whole time. He stayed on his mat in the corner and his presence by the child’s bedside seemed to keep the boy calm and happy. The nurses in the PICU all commented on how lovely her dog was and what a joy it was to have the dog there to comfort the sick child.
Time came and Lindsay and her sister got hungry so she, her sister and her service dog made their way down to the hospital’s cafeteria. They had a peaceful meal and made their way back to the elevators and that’s when a hospital administrator threw herself in front of the elevator door, demanding the dog’s “certification and ID”.
Lindsay calmly explained that there was no such thing as “certification and ID” for service dogs and she went to step on the elevator but the woman refused to budge, exclaiming that if Lindsay could not produce her dog’s papers, she would have to leave the hospital. Lindsay then gave the woman a copy of the ADA but the woman said that it was “hospital policy” that the dog should have papers.
The ADA is a civil rights law. Much like the Civil Rights Laws that granted people of color equal rights in the 1960s to have free use of any public establishment, the ADA grants disabled people the rights to have free use of any public establishment they please as long as it is reasonable. Thus, just like a hospital can’t have a “policy” that prohibits people of color from using their facilities, public establishments can’t have “policies” that preempt the rights of disabled people from equal use of their facilities, service dog or not.
Lindsay’s sister suggested they just take the stairs, but as they headed towards the stairwell, they were intercepted by hospital security. The security guards claimed that if the dog didn’t have papers, he had to go because he had “scared” a nurse simply by looking at her. Another DOJ regulation states that fear of dogs or allergies is not a reason to remove a legitimate service animal and both the disabled person and the fearful or allergic person must be accommodated. The only way a service animal can legitimately be removed by a facility is if the dog is causing a disturbance like toileting in a public place or barking incessantly. Lindsay’s dog had done none of these things.
Long story short, Lindsay was escorted out of the hospital by two formidable male security guards and was not allowed to go back inside to retrieve her medication which she had left with her purse in the PICU. She was literally kicked to the curb, in a torrential downpour, across the hospital from her car. Since Lindsay was disabled, there was no way for her to walk that far to her car without help, but the hospital security threatened to call the police if she entered the building again. Her sister was forced to leave her sick child in the PICU to help Lindsay find her way to her car.
This sort of abuse happens every day. Service dog handlers are one of the few openly oppressed minorities left in America and, despite the existence of Federal laws that protect our rights, we often don’t have the money to hire attorneys to fight the abuse.
So, the next time you see this abuse occurring, whether you are a service dog handler, a friend of a handler, or a bystander who is now educated because you have read this post, please stand up for the rights of this vulnerable minority. The disabled community asks very little from the general public. Only that we be treated with dignity and given the most basic accommodations.
Think about it.
ETA: Lindsay, or rather, my friend Amanda Figueroa, took this story public. The resulting news story went viral in the service dog community. Not only did the state attorney Willie Meggs refuse to prosecute the hospital on the misdemeanor of wrongfully removing her and her service dog, his comments were ignorant, dismissive, and offensive. Here’s the link: