Another recent incident highlights yet again problems with untrained or inadequately trained service dogs.
The incident in question occurred in March, when Ava, a 14-month-old German Shepherd "service animal," lunged at a six-year-old child who lived next door. It sounds like the dog was roaming free and attacked the girl on her property. There’s some debate about whether or not the girl was playing with the dog (which doesn’t really matter because a service dog shouldn’t attack under circumstances like that, nor should it be roaming at large). Anyway, the girl suffered a serious bite to her face that required more than 100 stitches to close.
Ava was owned by a family whose nine-year-old daughter has cancer. The dog was "trained" to steady the girl when she’s dizzy. That may certainly be a good role for a service dog, as there is a wide range of beneficial activities that proper service dogs can perform. However, real service dogs are highly trained and closely evaluated, with a significant effort dedicated to making sure the dog is properly behaved and does not pose a risk to others. That’s the problem here. While Ava might have been good for this one particular child, it doesn’t sound like there was any training to protect the public (and if there was, it was woefully inadequate).
Ava apparently also bit another child in the fall, compounding the concerns. A settlement between the neighbours has resulted in the dog being removed from the township, with no declaration that she’s dangerous, but also nothing preventing the likely lawsuit to recover medical costs, if not more.
There’s nothing good that comes from a situation like this. A young girl has lost her dog, another young girl has suffered a serious bite, and true service dogs – that play a critical role in the lives of many people – get lumped in with these untrained animals.
If someone wants and needs a service dog, it’s important to facilitate that. At the same time, if someone is going to take advantage of the benefits of having a service dog (e.g. broader access) they need to have an adequately trained, true service animal. Too many "service animals" are just pets with basically no additional training, but serious training is required for the animal to both do a real job as well as to ensure that there is minimal risk to the public.