Recently, I wrote a commentary about the need to better define what service animals are because of potential abuse of regulations regarding service animals and the possibility that illegitimate use of the term could impact true service animals. Here are some good comments from a reader.

As a service dog user and trainer who sometimes lectures at the University of Guelph, I am sorry to see the American-centric slant to this article.  In Canada the guideliines are even more vague and there has to be a charter challenge to support the use of a service dog that has been owner trained.

  • The article was intended to discuss the American situation since I was talking about American legislation and responding to problems that people have asked me about in the US. Issues are different in various countries and the legal protections in the US certainly don’t apply to Canada.
  • The last point raises some concerns. What constitutes "owner trained?" Service animals are highly trained to do their specific task and to work safely in public situations. I’m not convinced owner training makes a service animal. There needs to be at least some degree of supervision/review of the training and certification process.

I use a service dog to mitigate the effects of my invisible disability and the vagueness of the laws related to service dogs in Canada has made travelling and working with my dog difficult.  I get comments that range from "you don’t look disabled" (which I usually reply to with -thank you!
neither do you!) to "that dog doesn’t look like he is doing anything and how can he help you if he is asleep (believe it or not, he does get to sleep when I stop to work somewhere, but will wake up and work if needed).

  • Those are all legitimate concerns and I empathize with the problems you’ve had. That’s why I think the "spirit" of the US’s ADA is excellent. Protection needs to be in place for true service animals. Just as important is the need for education about what service animals are, what they do, and where they should be allowed to go. I also think this reader’s concerns support my comments: We need to make sure that service animals are properly scrutinized. If people know that service animals are properly trained and regulated, they are less likely to have a problem with them. On the other hand, if people never know whether a service animal is really a service animal, then they may be less likely to give them the degree of respect and access they deserve.

I strongly feel that if you don’t need a dog you won’t take a dog with you; why would you? It is too much work!  For anyone who would like to take their pet with them to the grocery store, I would be delighted to take them with me to show them what travelling through the meat aisle is like; people stop and stare.  You have to plan your route so that the grocery clerk doesn’t park their cart under my dog’s nose (no…he won’t touch it…but why make his day harder than it needs to be).  You need to be aware of the two year old who is covered in jam who wants to hug the doggy.    And you have to avoid hazards like the display of glass jars that tumbled and broke in front of my dog, surrounding him in glass shards with no way to safely walk out (stand stay! what a useful behaviour).

  • Sorry, but I disagree. I think that if a grocery store advertised that it was pet friendly, there would be dogs in there all the time. Some people bring their pets everywhere, no matter how much extra work it is.
  • Also, the grocery store example is a great one to highlight concerns. There are public health reasons why we don’t want widespread animal access in grocery stores. Check out a previous post about a "service horse" walking through grocery store.

Life with a service dog is enriching for certain, but it is not something you want to do unless you need to.  I would advise anyone who is concerned about the illegitimate users to slow down, and think.  We are already protected.  If your dog is causing a problem, you can be asked to leave.

  • In Canada you can. In the US you can’t. That was the point of the article. In the US, you can’t ask someone to make an animal leave except under very specific circumstances that a true service animal should never create. What we need is more protection in Canada and more clarity in the US.

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