Keep calm it’s just a service dog


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.

A service dog may be excluded from:

  • 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:


9 thoughts on “Keep calm it’s just a service dog

  1. For some reason I doubt she was literally kicked to the curb. Do you know what that means? She should have reentered the hospital and ask them to please do call the police. If it was her right to be there, the police could help her enforce those rights and be a learning experience for all. A right not exercised is no right at all.

    • I think that for reasons related to her specific disability the stress of the ordeal with the hospital staff had caused a “flare up” of intensified health issues and she was unable to face down the security and additional police officers and handle the additional health issues that had come up. That’s all I can really say without going into her private medical history.

  2. I can’t believe the stupidity of some people. Sevice dogs are well trained assistants for the disabled and better behaved than some people.. When I see a dog with someone in a food establishment or grocery store in a hospital or on any public transportation I assume it is a service dog especially if it has a harness on. I can’t believe how ignorant some people are……

  3. I sincerely hope there is a lawsuit against this hospital and and the administrator and the security guards who took it upon themselves to hurt this woman. Some people are just too arrogant and/or too stupid for their own good and the only way to deal with this is to hit them where it hurts the most in their bank account.

  4. Since this has gone public I think you should post the WCTV link to the story with this post. I can’t help but think that at this point calling this business out is the only way to get their attention.

  5. I too have a service dog…She is a 5 pound Yorkie…I suffer from panic attacks while out in the public…I have paper work from my Doctor to allow this dog to be with me even with her vest on I get very rude comments from the public…It seems the only dog that is never question is a seeing eye dog..

  6. Why would a disabled person choose a cropped ear, intact male pit bull as a service animal? While ADA gives protection to genuinely disabled people who need a service animal in order to live independently, don’t the disabled have a societal responsibility to choose an appropriate service animal that doesn’t frighten people, like Suzanne’s Yorkie? Does a disabled person have the physical strength to manage such an animal on their own? Finally, if your friend is disabled, why didn’t she park in a disabled permitted parking spot near the hospital instead of across the street? What kind of help did she need to cross the street? Maybe a service animal isn’t what she needs? Perhaps she’d be better off with a walker or wheelchair?

    • I think the issue here is that you’re making assumptions about “disability”. Disabilities come in endless varieties and, yes, many disabled people may have the physical strength to manage an animal like Doogan. I know Amanda/Lindsay takes Doogan on 6 mile runs every day. Also, not everyone who is disabled under the ADA can get a parking permit. I can’t speak for Amanda/Lindsay, I don’t know her specific situation, but I do know that the ADA (the disability civil rights law) is much more permissive than social security disability or state laws on permits.

      Amanda/Lindsay could not make it to her car because her disability flared up. It does this under extreme stress and under certain triggers. My guess is she did not anticipate the extreme confrontation she’d have.

      Finally, what is scary to one man is sweet to another. I have had people run away in tears when my yellow lab and I walked quietly into a store. If you choose a breed of service dog by what other people will think, instead of what works for you, you will not end up with the ideal partner. The key is to find a breed that you can live with easily, that can do the things you need him to do, and that matches your temperament and training style.

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