I recently read a review on jjslist.com about a couple accompanied by their Service Dog who visited Wedgewood Farms Restaurant in Burlington Township, New Jersey, and who were refused service by the manager on duty.
As I read about this couple’s victimization I felt waves of anger and disbelief wash over me. I wanted to do something to help educate Americans on the valuable role that Service Dogs serve in our society. Hopefully this editorial will help diminish prejudice against these important animals and their owners by the business owners of restaurants, stores, banks, bakeries, coffee shops and other Main Street business.
What Is A Service Dog
My company is the Chicago Dog Coach, a Chicago dog training company that specializes in training Chicago Service Dogs for private citizens and veterans in Illinois. I specialize in providing Service Dogs for veterans and private citizens who desire to procure their own dogs that are trained to their specifications.
As a nationally credentialed Occupational Therapist and a dog trainer, I find that I can assist Americans in a very unique manner. I find that the best way to help overcome miscommunication, ignorance and prejudice about Service Dogs is to look at the actual federal law. I find that the law is very clear on what a Service Dog is, what a Service Dog does and what a Service Dog is not.
The ADA (The Americans With Disabilities Act) defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. The federal rules are explained below:
“The rule defines “service animal” as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The rule states that other animals, whether wild or domestic, do not qualify as service animals. Dogs that are not trained to perform tasks that mitigate the effects of a disability, including dogs that are used purely for emotional support, are not service animals.”
The Training of Service Dogs
In many cases Service Dogs are generally carefully bred and undergo rigorous training before they are matched with a partner. The Service Dog training is so complicated and demanding that most Service Dog programs have a failure rate of about 80%. My program is very different from the standard national programs as I have a success rate of close to 100%. In the program offered at my company, The Chicago Dog Coach Dog Training Company, the owner choses his own dog from the dog breed of his or her choice and works closely with a professional dog trainer to train the dog in an dog- centered manner.
I train the Service Dog to be reliable on and off leash, to perform a task to assist the individual to complete their ADL’s (Activities of Daily Living), to be well-mannered in public; and most importantly to be non-aggressive to people and other dogs. Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) are those personal functional activities required by all of us for continued well-being and include things like taking medication, personal hygiene. getting to work and mobility.
For many individuals with disabilities, assistance from other human beings or Service Dogs to perform activities of daily living is a daily need. Preserving one’s sense of dignity and self-esteem when receiving services is something that must be learned, and requires patience, flexibility, and a commitment from both Service Dog owner and the public. Building meaningful and mutually beneficial partnerships with Service Dog owners and local businesses takes patience and hard work on everyone’s part, and I for one, think that it is worth the effort.
What Does A Service Dog Do?
I can assure business owners that if a Service Dog appears in the door of your business it is a very special animal that is serving a medical need, a medical need that may be visible or invisible to the naked ete.
These Service Dogs are recognized by our government as “necessary medical equipment” that the person must have in order to maintain their life and lifestyle. I find that it helps many people to think of the dog as a furry pacemaker, or a wheelchair with a friendly face.
The Service Dog can perform tasks that are used to reduce illness or disability for a person, the tasks themselves are incredibly varied. The Service Dog may serve people in some of the following ways:
- to guide and assist blind people with orientation,
- to alert deaf people to sounds,
- assist people with mobility disabilities to pull their wheelchairs or retrieve items,
- warn people of an imminent seizure or low blood sugar,
- remind people with psychiatric disabilities to take medication, assist veterans with new complicated mental and cognitive disabilities with activities of daily living as they reenter civilian life.
Your Rights As A Business Owner
Many business owners are confused and even angry because they are under the mistaken belief that a Service Dog if it is allowed to enter the premises will take their business hostage, damage goods and frighten consumers away. Trust me, nothing could be further from the truth! Service Dogs are better mannered and under better control than most children. As a matter of fact, I have seen business increase at establishments that allow Service Dogs to enter their businesses.
The law supports the rights of the disabled person to use a Service Dog and also requires the Service Dog owner to be responsible for the behavior of the dog. In addition the law does allows the business owner to maintain an orderly and safe
atmosphere even with the entrance of a Service Dog. The law requires Service Dogs and their owners to operate in a responsible manner to protect the business owner and clientele:
1. Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal’s work or the individual’s disability prevents him from using these devices. Individuals who cannot use such devices must maintain clear control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.
2. However, a public accommodation may charge its customers with disabilities if a service animal causes damage so long as it is the regular practice of the entity to charge non-disabled customers for the same types of damages.
3. You may exclude any service animal from your facility when that animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. For example, any service animal that displays aggressive behavior such as barking, growling, snapping or biting near or at guests or customers may be immediately excluded and escorted out of the establishment.
4. If the animal is not house-trained and urinates/defecates in your establishment you do have the right to immediately remove the animal.
What to Do If You Are Refused Access
If you are illegally denied access to or otherwise discriminated against in a place of public accommodation because of your Service Dog, stay calm. First, explain that the ADA protects your right to be accompanied by your service dog in places of public accommodation. It can ease the fear and frustration of all involved if a copy of the federal law is provided for reference.
If that does not get you admitted, then ask to speak to the manager or supervisor that is on duty. Repeat the explanation in a calm voice. If you are still not admitted, you can then politely offer to call the police to have them explain the federal law to the business owner.
In my experience if the issue gets to the point that the police are called and presented with the ADA, the establishment will reconsider their position and admit the Service Dog and owner.
Sometimes writing a letter to the person who owns the facility will result in an apology and a change in policy. Disability advocacy groups might be interested in pursuing the issue on your behalf but I would suggest this as a last resort.
In closing I hope that this article has clarified the role of the Service Dog, the Service Dog owner and the business owner so that all parties concerned can enjoy the benefits that the animals bring to our citizens.
Ami Moore, also known as the Chicago Dog Coach, is a professional dog training and behavior expert. She has trained assistance and service dogs for adults and children with a variety of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual disabilities and is a member of SARA as a Service Animal Trainer. She can be found on YouTube and Facebook.