Monday, September 29, 2014

Fake Service Dogs

It's National Guide Dog Month so my September posts are about blind people and guide dogs. I wrote this opinion piece about fake service dogs for The Bark in 2008 when I was Executive Director of the California Guide Dog Board.


"Pet owners who misinterpret the law, or worse intentionally mislead retailers so they may bring their dogs into places of business, jeopardize the access rights that guide dog handlers worked so hard to establish beginning seventy years ago."

No other charity excites more sympathy than dogs assisting disabled people, combining as it does the beauty and nobility of the animals with the needs of challenged individuals.  And no other assistance programs create so much controversy.



In the 1940s, before the organization of the California State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind, a consumer affairs licensing agency whose mission is to maintain the professional threshold of guide dog training, the guide dog field suffered from many of the same problems the service dog industry is experiencing today.  Besides considerable public confusion as to the role and function of service dogs in public places, a long list of scandalous activities historically characterized our field.  Providing dogs with no training, raising funds with no plans to produce trained dogs, selling dogs, accepting people for training and not providing any, and selling unauthorized certification papers were significant features of many of the “guide dogs schools” operating in California.


While dogs have been used to assist blind people for thousands of years, the aftermath of the unregulated Industrial Revolution and horrible wounds of World War I increased the number of persons who were visually impaired.   With no minimum standards set for schools, it was possible for any person to start a guide dog program.  By the 1940s programs of varying quality and competence were emerging throughout the country but most were in California.

Many people and organizations that provided services to the blind felt that growing scandalous operations  were potentially so dangerous to consumers that something had to be done.  A small group of blind people, the California Council of the Blind, and the editors of the Pasadena Star News joined with highly supportive legislators to lay the groundwork for a system that would insure that blind people would receive competent instruction with properly trained dogs, that funds raised for guide dogs would be spent properly, and that the public would be educated as to the services a dog provides.  The Guide Dog Board was created by statute in 1947.

At the beginning of the Guide Dog Act, there were close to 20 guide dog operations; after regulatory authority was established only two were able to qualify for licenses and still exist today, Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael and Guide Dogs of America in Sylmar.  (The third California school, Guide Dogs of the Desert was licensed in 1972). The other training programs for the most part disappeared.

Like all states, California controls the licensing and regulation of specific services and agencies such as dentists, architects, engineers and contractors. However California is the only state that requires mandatory licensing of guide dog schools and instructors. 

Minimum standards and licensing expand opportunities for guide dog users through better public education and law enforcement.  In addition,  the right to public access belongs to individuals who use service animals that have been trained to perform physical tasks that mitigate the person’s disability.  Guide dog  handlers entering public facilities and using transportation, following an incident in which another individual was unable to control a poorly trained service or emotional support animal, are likely to be denied access due to problems caused by the previous handler.

Pet owners who misinterpret the law, or worse - intentionally mislead retailers so they may bring their dogs into places of business, jeopardize the access rights that guide dog handlers worked so hard to establish beginning seventy years ago.
###

Read More:  Commonly asked questions about service animals in places of business published by U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division.

2 comments:

  1. It is sad when people misuse the rights of disabled people in this case and so many others. I am surprised at how many times I have gone into regular stores and seen people with dogs in their cart, I doubt they are for a disability;)

    Debbie

    ReplyDelete
  2. All too common though, isn't it, when those few who flout the law cause so much trouble for those who genuinely abide by their well deserved privileges.

    ReplyDelete