A Yonkers, New York school has barred a service dog from a school. On the surface, that sounds like a problem and an invitation for a lawsuit (particularly in the US considering the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)), but when you hear the details is seems like an entirely logical response.

The "service dog" is a four-month-old puppy that the child, an 8-year-old boy with juvenile diabetes, uses to monitor his blood glucose levels. The boy’s family has battled the school board for a year and the the state Division of Human Rights has declared this year that the Spataros had grounds to sue the district over the issue. Of to court they go…

Service animals need to have full access to do their jobs. The question comes down to is it really a proper service animal?  That’s pretty subjective and the weakness of the ADA complicates things. In this case, it certainly seems that this is not truly a proper service dog.

  • This dog is four months old. That’s too young to be a highly trained service animal. It’s also too young to properly assess its temperament, and temperament testing is very important for animals with such open access.
  • School board officials claim the dog has not been properly trained and is "not a service dog under the existing service animals standards and guidelines."  A minimum of 120 hours of training over 6 months or more is recommended by the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, something that obviously has not happened with this dog. The person that trained the dog says that the IAADP’s guidelines are just suggestions rather than rules that have to be followed. That’s true, but they are suggestions by a recognized and informed group, and I’d put their opinions well above someone who thinks a four-month-old puppy can be a proper service animal.
  • The school board has also offered to provide a person to assist the child in the classroom, so that the child can attend school without any barriers.

This isn’t going to end well. It’s going to cost the family and the school board (i.e. the general public) lots of money in lawyer fees. It’s going to draw unnecessary attention to this boy and his disease at school.

If someone needs a service animal, they need to get a real service animal. Otherwise, it’s just a pet coming along for the ride. There needs to be better regulation of service animals. In the US, the ADA needs to be reviewed so that patients’ rights are protected but also so that the public is protected from inappropriate animals. Bad service animals hurt the credibility of real service animals and the people they serve.

Image from http://www.lohud.com.