Blind World Magazine

Are you ready for the latest scam?, NY State USA.
Thursday, May 25, 2006.

Happy is the owner of a dog. I know because I am one. Research has shown that having a dog - or some other pet - generally results in a longer life and less stress for the owner. One study confirmed what all us dog owners already intuit: recovery time after major surgery is cut in half if the patient returns from the hospital to a home with a dog. It has even been shown that introducing a puppy into a maximum-security prison calms the prisoners.

However, are you ready for the latest scam? A very small number of dog owners, aware of the vital role service dogs perform for people with disabilities, are now claiming that their dogs are service dogs too because they provide emotional support.

Whoa! There is a whale of a difference between carefully trained service dogs - who enable a blind person to navigate around the city, use the subways and otherwise function - and the inherent value given by all dogs to their owners just by virtue of their being dogs.

Some dog owners are actually carrying letters from their mental health professionals stating that they need to be accompanied by their dogs in restaurants, in the passenger cabins of airplanes and the like, because their dogs are emotional support dogs. ALL dogs are emotional support animals without benefit of prolonged training.

As a result of these letters, litigious-shy restaurant owners, co-op apartment boards, health spas and other normally pet-free establishments are allowing themselves to be cowed into accepting dogs where they previously have been banned.

Now hear me out. I am just as sympathetic toward people who have psychological and emotional problems, even if they are not as visible as physical problems. And if having a dog helps, then more troubled people should have dogs. But where is the line between societal compassion and bullying of society by individuals?

Another such example is the handicapped parking spots. In order to enable those with disabilities to enjoy a full life, society as a whole has recognized the value of reserving parking spots for such individuals next to their destinations.

However, we all know that there are those who take advantage of that situation. Yet we can't police everyone who claims a handicapped parking space, and so we conclude that the greater good justifies shrugging off some misuse.

The situation is not exactly equivalent for the untrained, so-called service dogs. Their owners are claiming access for them to places where health regulations generally preclude the presence of animals.

Despite what the French believe (and I must say, French dogs who invariably lie beneath their owners' chairs and remain quietly invisible in French restaurants are impressive), dogs can carry ticks and fleas, among other things, and don't belong in numbers where food and health services are being dispensed.

When does the right of one individual impinge on the rights of others?

That said, according to the SundayStyles section of The New York Times, there is a 2003 ruling by the Department of Transportation that explicitly recognizes the need on airplanes for animals who support people with depression and anxiety, conditions that while not as visible as, say, blindness, can be just as limiting. And in 2004, for the first time, according to The Times, New York State's appellate courts (highest level) ruled twice in favor of tenants who were able to demonstrate the need for pets' emotional support in otherwise no-pets buildings.

According to The Times, because of those rulings, airlines are now trying to figure out how to deal with "200-pound dogs in the passenger cabin and even emotional-support goats."

Again according to The Times, "The 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act states that anyone depending on an animal to function should be allowed full access to all private businesses that serve the public, like restaurants, stores and theaters. The law specifies that such animals must be trained specifically to assist their owners."

Instead of a letter from a mental health professional regarding the owner, maybe the person seeking such exception for his or her pet should carry the pet's diploma. That would eliminate, as The Times succinctly put it, owners who just want to brunch with their Labradoodles.

End of article.

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