Monday, January 4, 2010

Thoughts on OT Service Dogs

The other day Mitch had a very thought provoking post. As someone who has dealt with both the good and bad aspects for owner training service dogs, here are my thoughts. I think that owner training should be allowed and that there should continue to be no national certification for service dogs. Why? Because the logistical nightmare of regulating service dogs, their training, vet work, follow up, re-certs, and corresponding cross-checking of medical information for the disabled partners is a huge undertaking that I do not think the government is prepared to do. I think it would lead to discrimination and the loss of needed support that service dogs provide if such a program were in place (long waiting, most likely fees involved, ect).

Owner training also allows for individual preferences. Most programs use larger retriever type dog breeds, and while I am a huge fan, not everyone is. What if someone needs a dog that does not shed? How about a small breed dog? What if they have a dog already with the proper temperament for service work? Many people who train their own service dogs also say they have a better understanding of their disability. Some programs (though not all) charge a fee for their dogs. Sometimes people are not able to leave their work or home to train with their new dog. There is also a wait period, sometimes years, to obtain a dog from a program.

I have meet three owner trained dogs in my town. The first was a wonderful cocker spaniel who started out as just a pet. After her owner was in an accident and started having seizures, they dog started alerting to them. The owner got support from her medical team, went through professional training, and now has a dog that helps to keep her safe. Now, there are NO organizations that can train seizure ALERT dogs. They can train dogs to respond to a seizure, but unlike diabetic alert dogs the mechanism for what the dog is actually alerting to is not known and cannot be trained for. This means for someone with seizures to have a seizure alert dog they would have to find a dog with the alert ability.

The next dog I met was a little papillion who assisted a woman in a wheel chair. This woman could have certainly gone through a program, but decided she wanted a small breed dog as they are less expensive to care for and generally have a longer working life. Since she was in a power chair and did not need help pulling her wheelchair, this woman mainly had the dog trained to retrieve dropped items. While only one task, it encompassed many aspects of her life and allowed her to be very independent. Both of these dogs were encountered in public settings and had FANTASTIC manners.

Now the last dog I encountered was mentioned in this post and actually attacked Millie since then. Of the three dogs I have mentioned, this was also the only 'typical' breed: a golden retriever. Luckily Millie was not bitten and was fine, but it just went to show how the dog was unfit for service work and the handler was completely unable to control her dog. The dog was also worked through the advanced stages of cancer, which I think is morally reprehensible on the handler's part. That dog has since passed away and I am very thankful to not have to worry about unleashed, aggressive, and out-of-control service dogs.

What I think would have been high effective in this case would to have been actual enforcement of laws already in place for those who fake service dogs. Would it still really be worth it for people if they knew they could face up to 6 months in jail and/or a $1000 fine? Some states have even higher punishments. The problem is that these are rarely enforced! Even when I contacted animal control and the police they did not know these punishments existed and even the laws regarding access in the first place. In the ADA business brief store owners and gatekeepers are told they can exclude ANY dog, even a service dog, if it is out of control or poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

The best thing we can do to help cut down on fake service dogs is to help local businesses understand their rights regarding service dogs and to always be excellent representatives with our pups in training or working dogs.


Mitch and Meade said...

Awesome post! I liked it.
What I was actually trying to say is that people who train their own service animals should have some experience or be supervised by a dog trainer or medical professional of some sort. I don't know, does that make sense? It does in my mind.
Anyway, thanks for voicing your opinions. :) It's always nice to see different perspectives.

Sarah and the Pack. said...

I always think having professional advice would be good for people training their own service dogs! Thanks for commenting, it is indeed good to hear others opinions.