I just arrived back from my trip to teach Treibball in Montreal with DogzWorth, and as many of you know this was Deef’s last big trip with me. I am thinking of a retirement party for him sometime soon. In many ways it was a great trip with the exception of the enormous access challenge that we faced just before we travelled. I was travelling by train and as normal for me, I called the day before I was to travel in order to make sure that D’fer was going to be welcome on the train. I call not because I have to, but because I want the trip to go as smoothly as possible.
The answer I got was somewhat frustrating. I was told that the company’s policy was to require that all service dogs have certification by a recognized service dog school. Under the law, this is not required, and probably not permitted, but many companies in many countries all over the world are beginning to make their own policies without regard for what the local laws say regarding disabled people who are accompanied by their service dogs. And many companies are very concerned about people faking that their dog is a service dog. Hmmm.
John posted a short blurb on his Facebook page lamenting how frustrated he was with this attitude, stating that we have never met a fake service dog. I know many people claim that they know of this happening and I know many trainers who have been presented with dogs that clients want trained as a service dog so that they can either live somewhere that a dog is prohibited or that they can travel with their dogs, so I know this is out there, but I think that the whole “fake” service dog issue is a side bar.
First and foremost it is illegal in most places to fake having a disability. In the United States there are big fines at the federal level for faking a disability in order to get access to services that might not be available to the general public. So if you are faking having a disability, then that in and of its self is wrong. Using an assistive device to perpetuate that is even more wrong, regardless of the type of assistive device that you choose to use.
|This is an extremely sophisticated assistive device. Who trained her, where she came from, and what she does is not as important as the fact that she is never a disturbance in public!|
Interestingly the transportation company did not have a policy regarding the use of wheelchairs, canes or walkers, of eye glasses or of hearing aides. They only had a policy regarding the use of a dog. Hmmmm again. So in theory, if you are in need of a prosthetic finger, and you happen to be a bicycle repair guy, you can make your own and no one will care. In fact, if you do that, you can get yourself an article in the Huffington Post: http://tinyurl.com/c3qfhvf . You are more than welcome to travel with your prosthetic finger, even if you are not certified to make one. That dear readers is discrimination. If you are permitted to make your own wheelchair, cane, glasses, prosthetics or hearing aides, then why should you not be permitted to train your own service dog?
Something that I think is an important part of disability culture is the right of the individual to determine what the best accommodation is for him or her. I live with migraines, traumatic brain injury, depression and anxiety. My dog is able to pick things up, make space for me in a crowd, help me to walk in a straight line and alert me to oncoming migraines and panic events. My dog makes travel comfortable when I might not be able to go at all otherwise. My dog frees up the skills of my fellow travelers who might otherwise be asked to pick things up or take care of me when I am not able to take care of myself. I would far rather have D’fer by my side and not have to explain each day what I need and ask for the help I need in order to be able to go from one point to another.
Not every dog is suited to this work, and not every disabled person is able to train their own dogs, but we need to start considering some of the things that we can do when the situation comes together where a disabled person has a suitable dog and has the skills to train it. When this comes together, then why shouldn’t we have the right to train our own dogs?
The law already says I am not permitted to create a disturbance in public. Dogs themselves don’t have the right of access; it is disabled people who have the right of access and who may be accompanied by a working dog. If I am traveling and my dog was to create a disturbance by barking, or toileting inappropriately, or by jumping on people or by knocking someone down, or by picking things up or carrying things, then it doesn’t matter if the dog is certified; the company has the right to kick me out. My dog does none of these things.
When I called the company, I was told that I would need a certificate from a recognized service dog school. I have a friend who is trying to fly overseas right now with her service dog and she is going through the same thing. She has a very highly trained sheltie who assists her in a number of ways, but she does not have a “certificate”. This discrimination is frustrating and avoidable.
There is a theory that is very interesting when it come to disabled and currently abled people sharing space; it is called Universal Accessibility. What this means is that without making a special ramp, or changing the configuration of the room; how could we set up the world so that everyone would be welcome. When you build a building so that it has Universal Accessibility, you think about how a wide variety of people would access your service. In the case of a train you think about how you might build a train and the platform so that wheelchairs could roll in, and people could walk in and strollers could roll in and we wouldn’t need to preboard if we were disabled because there would be no more difficulty for someone with a wheelchair or a service dog or a baby in a buggy than there would be for someone who is currently abled.
We can also think of this as being something that we do when we make our rules. Rules should apply equally to all. No one ever worries about currently abled people rolling into their place of business in a wheelchair that they made themselves. So if you are NOT disabled, and you decide to take your kitchen chair and the wheels off your bike and meld them together, there is no law that says you cannot travel around just like that. Why you might want to is beyond me, but it is perfectly legal to do so. In fact you can do this if you are disabled too, but really, who would want to do this?
When we look at the laws that we live with and the rules that companies make, they are often the result of a problem that has cropped up. Presumably there have been no problems so far with homemade wheelchairs or prosthetics and thus there are not rules about this. There have however been problems with service dogs and thus, we have rules, but the rules are rarely universal in nature. I would implore organizations that make rules relating to service dogs to make fair rules that are in line with the law AND that apply equally to everyone.
If a rule were to state that train passengers are not permitted to make a disturbance either through making excessive noise, littering or leaving their seat area in an unsanitary manner, or interfering with their fellow passenger’s access to the train, we would have a rule that applied equally to service dog users, currently abled people and those with canes, wheelchairs or incontinent babies or service dogs, without specifically listing the service dog as an issue. We already have a law that requires that service dog users in Ontario carry a letter from their doctor indicating that we have legitimate need for a service dog; why should we need more than that to give us the right to use a dog who is clean, well behaved, not barking and not blocking the aisle? Fair is fair and I would like to see the rules change internally to reflect that rules ought to be the same for everyone.
Traveling through the public realm with a service dog is not nearly as much fun as people think. The background work that goes into making a service dog candidate into a great service dog is huge. You have to choose the right dog, and then give him the proper socialization. You have to train him to cope with all the things that you are going to need to face as an adult doing public access. You have to teach him to do things that help. That your dog makes you feel better is not a task; it is an outcome. If you cannot articulate what your dog does, then he isn’t a service dog. Assistive devices are not toys, even though they may be a lot of fun some of the time. If you are thinking about making your pet into a service dog, and you don’t have a disability consider that I cannot choose to not have my disability at any given point. I am reliant on my dog to make it possible for me to do things, and it is not cool to pretend to have the limitations that a disabled person does.
Traveling with a service dog is a lot of work. When we got off the train in Toronto, my first order of duty was to find somewhere that Deef could toilet without inconveniencing any of my fellow travellers. This weekend, that meant a twenty minute walk, lugging about fifty pounds of gear, out of the building and through construction. D’fer was really thirsty from our trip so I had to find water. I purchased a big bottle of water for him and unpacked his bowl and put it down for him to drink. He drank most of it and then I needed to wait and see if he needed any more. After waiting ten minutes, I dumped what he didn’t drink, used a dirty shirt from my suitcase to dry off the bowl and repacked everything. Then we had to walk some more in case he needed to go again. Have you noticed that I haven’t been to the bathroom yet? Then we had to hike on back to the train station, and find an accessible bathroom; we don’t fit in a regular stall. That done, I found a place to wait the hour for my connection. During that hour four people interrupted my work (I was on my computer) to ask me inane questions about my dog. Sometimes they ask me really rude questions too. I am not fond of answering personal questions from complete strangers but it is par for the course when traveling with a service dog. Why anyone would fake this is beyond me; it is too much work!
I have written this for several reasons. Firstly, if you are a gate keeper who is trying to make sure that those who should not have a service dog don’t, please look first at the behaviour of the dog; if the dog is jacketed and well behaved, on one level, who cares if the person is disabled or not. If they are not, if they don’t really need the dog they will learn soon enough that it is a big pain in the butt to travel with a dog who isn’t needed, and they will stop doing it. If in the meantime, you have a well behaved dog on your hands, what harm? And if the dog is not well behaved, you are within your rights to refuse service to the person solely based on them creating a disturbance. Secondly, if you are considering faking your need for a service dog, think again. It isn’t fair to the dog if he has not had the appropriate training to ask him to do the things we ask service dogs to do. It is also a ton of work for you and it will get you attention you really don’t want. Thirdly, if you are a service dog user, please make sure that your use of a dog doesn’t inconvenience the people you encounter. I have seen service dogs who do not mind their manners, whose people don’t clean up after them and who create a disturbance. YOU are disturbing the peace when your service dog barks, lunges, takes things that don’t belong to you or soils the area he is within, and the proprietor has the right to refuse you service based on YOU creating a disturbance. Having a certificate from a service dog school doesn’t give you the right to disturb others. We can all get along if we try, but we all have to try if we are going to get along.