Fake Service Dogs?: A Call to Action
In a recent article in The Federal Way Mirror, published in the Puget Sound area of Washington, editor Andy Hobbs focused on the issue of people who place vests on their dogs and call them “Service Dogs”. http://www.federalwaymirror.com/news/147080865.html A friend of mine who lives near Puget Sound was kind enough to send me this link and I was dismayed to read (again) that there are people taking advantage of a federal designation unscrupulously. Equally dismaying is the disservice it does for those who truly need a dog to help them. The article states:
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 grants specific rights and prohibits discrimination related to service dogs. There are no requirements for licensing, certification or identification of service dogs, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The animals are not required to wear special collars, vests or harnesses. The ADA makes it unlawful to require proof of a disability or identification for the service dog. When dealing with so-called service animals, businesses are only allowed to ask two questions of dog owners:
- Is the dog required because of a disability?
- What task or service has the dog been trained to do?
This points out the strong need for clarity concerning the issues of terminology and definitions for those people who work with animals, whether as the professional delivering a service or as this article highlights, as the recipient of the service/s of an animal.
Today, we have a plethora of words we use to describe animals that serve us. For example, a dog who helps a person with a disability may be called a service dog, a psych dog or a therapy dog. Because there are a number of possible “disabilities” a human may have, there are dogs who are specifically trained to help with those disabilities.
The ADA referred to above was created in 1990 when many of what we now describe as psychiatric disabilities were largely not recognized. For example, it was not until 1980 that the American Psychiatric Association added the term “post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD), which was originally coined in the mid-1970s, to the third edition of the DSM, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Today however, there is a national movement to match veterans diagnosed with PTSD with dogs whose main purpose is to help in calming and re-focusing the person, allowing them a better quality of life.
But what do we call this particular type of dog? Is it a therapy dog because it is performing a therapeutic task? Is it a psych(iatric) dog because it is of emotional benefit to the person it works with? Or is it a service dog because it serves the person it lives with and allows that person to live a less stressful life?
Another concern involves training for the practitioners and for the animals, often dogs. An example would be that of a dog trainer matching a specifically trained dog to a person. If the dog trainer has no formal education in psychology or counseling or knowledge of how a physical or psychological disability affects a person, should s/he be allowed to make that decision, solely based on their knowledge, albeit extensive, about canine ability and temperament? Along the same lines, does it make sense for a dog who has been trained for two years to perform a myriad of complex tasks be paired with a person who is physically able but who has a diagnosis of moderate to severe PTSD?
And what about people who use animals in their counseling work? Should someone who again may have extensive training as a therapist but with no formal or even minimal training in animal psychology be crossing their line of education and mixing it with a different one?
I believe that multi-disciplinary practices are definitely possible and certainly beneficial. Although we live in a world of specialization, this does not negate the possibility of blending two (or more) seemingly separate practices.
However, in order to do this, we need to create some guidelines. We need to agree on words, definitions and terminology that can and do cross the boundaries – ones that make sense and that we can all agree on. We need to define the scope of training for those people who work with animals in a service capacity and who mix disciplines.
This will entail some serious brainstorming and probably some disagreements. So, here is where the call to action comes in: I propose that practitioners who would like to be a part of this process join HABRI Central and prepare for some lengthy discussions!
We will need people with vision and creative thinking and folks who are not afraid to ultimately approach the Department of Justice. Once we can come up with a proposed set of guidelines, it is likely that the ADA wording will have to be changed.
Every action taken for the purpose of betterment has a process attached to it. However, without the action, there can be no change of any kind. Let us begin this process with positive intentions to create a new, clearer, more well-defined and all-encompassing set of terminology and guidelines for people and animals who work together to help one another.