Thursday, May 31, 2012

I’ve Been Sick

I’ve been sick the last few days.  Some sort of stomach virus, I think.  That’s why I haven’t posted in a few days.  Thankfully, I am feeling better now.  But it got me thinking about dealing with health care issues with a service dog.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, people that rely on service dogs are allowed to take their dogs to most health care facilities, including doctors’ offices and hospitals, as long as the presence of the dog doesn’t cause a “fundamental alteration in the provision of goods or services.”  What that means in practice, and in plain English, is that you cannot take a service dog into an area where the presence of the dog would compromise the quality of care given to you or to other patients. 

One easy way to think about it with regards to a hospital is to consider in which areas of the hospital people have to wear special clothing.  In an operating room or a burn care unit, for instance, staff members all have to wear gowns and gloves and masks and shoe covers and hair covers.  However, you cannot dress up a dog like that.  The presence of a service dog could cause serious problems and there is really no way around it, no “reasonable accommodation” that could be made in order to allow the dog’s presence.

Plus, if you are having surgery, you are not going to be able to manage your dog and your dog is not likely to be able to do any tasks that help you with anything.  Most likely, you’ll be unconscious but even if you are having surgery under local or regional anesthesia and are awake, you’re not going to need your dog to pick up things for you or open doors for you or alert you to sounds or whatever it is your dog usually does for you.

You should, however, be able to take your service dog to the emergency room, to the lab, to the cafeteria, to the gift shop, and to visit patients on most units of the hospital.  If you are going to the emergency room because you are sick, though, you might want to bring along a friend that can help with your dog.  If you end up being there a long time, your dog may need to go outside and you might not be able to take it for a walk right then.  If you have to get x-rays or certain other tests, it may not be safe for your dog to be in the room with you, and hospital staff is not responsible for caring for your dog.

If you need to be admitted to the hospital for some reason, in most cases you should be able to take your service dog with you if you want to, but you should think about it carefully.  If you are sick enough to require hospitalization, you are probably too sick to take your dog for walks and to take care of your dog in other ways.  You could arrange for a friend or family member to come in several times a day to take your dog for walks, or you could hire a dog walker to do that.  Still, your dog is probably going to get bored and unhappy doing nothing but sitting beside your hospital bed for several days.  Most people that rely on service dogs choose to leave their dog with a friend or family member or send their dogs to a boarder when they need to be hospitalized.

Some people with service dogs have also told me that their dogs seemed pretty freaked out to see them in the hospital right after surgery.  Even dogs that had been around hospital patients before, like visiting someone in the hospital, were upset to see their owners in a lot of pain and smelling like… well, whatever people smell like right after major surgery.  Blood and guts, maybe?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Going out with My Dog

One of the important things about service dogs is that they are afforded public access to most places, even those places where pets are typically not allowed.  That’s because service dogs are not considered pets, and also because they are considered reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.  The Americans with Disabilities Act, which is a federal law, gives disabled people the right to enter public places with their service dogs.  Note that it’s not the dogs that have the right to enter; people with disabilities have the right to enter with their dogs.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) trumps state and local laws in most instances.  For instance, city health department regulations usually prohibit patrons from bringing dogs into restaurants.  However, the ADA overrules the city regulations and allows people with disabilities to bring their service dogs into restaurants. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about taking my service dog places with me.  When I go places, like to a doctor’s appointment or a restaurant or the library, I imagine making that trip with a service dog.  I think about things like where I would direct the dog to sit, what commands I would give, and what challenges I might face.  I imagine things like a dining companion asking if she could give my dog a bite of meat from her plate, and explaining to her that the dog is not allowed to eat in the restaurant but that she could save a bite and give it to the dog after we leave the building.  I imagine explaining to her that feeding the dog in the restaurant would confuse the dog, and the dog needs to understand that any food in the restaurant is off limits.  Otherwise, the dog might be tempted to try to take food from someone else’s table, or try to leave my side to get a bite of something that had been dropped on the floor.

After talking to a number of people that rely on service dogs, I think of things I never would have considered before.  I think of the things I’ll need to take along on a simple outing: water and a bowl, in case my dog gets thirsty; dog treats to use as rewards for good behavior; written copies of the ADA regulations giving me permission to take my dog into public places, to hand out to business owners or managers that challenge my right to access (which apparently is not uncommon); plastic bags to pick up after my dog; paper towels to clean up dog vomit if necessary; hand wipes or hand sanitizer to clean my hands after cleaning up after my dog; emergency information including the name and number of my vet; a small blanket for the dog to lie on if it’s going to be required to lie down in one place for a long time.  Some people carry a lot more than those things.

Currently, I don’t even carry a purse.  This is going to be an adjustment.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Service Dog Etiquette

No, I’m not talking about the dog’s manners.  Although service dogs are supposed to have very good manners.

I’m talking about your manners, when you encounter a service dog.

Let’s start with not petting a service dog unless you first get permission from its owner.  For that matter, don’t pet any dog you don’t know without asking first.  You don’t know if a strange dog is friendly or if it’s likely to bite your hand off.  Don’t run up to a strange dog and pet it.  And parents, please, don’t let your kids run up to a strange dog and pet it or pull its tail.  I don’t know why so many parents seem to think it’s OK to let their kids do that, but it’s not OK.  So don’t.

Now, a service dog is not likely to bite you, even if you surprise it, because service dogs are trained not to startle easily and not to bite.  But you’re still not supposed to pet one without asking first.  Petting a service dog distracts it from its work.  If you distract a service dog, you could be endangering its handler.  Besides that, it’s just rude.  A service dog is something a person with a significant disability relies on to function.  Petting their dog without asking would be like taking a seat in someone’s wheelchair without asking.

Don’t try to distract a service dog in other ways, either.  That means don’t bark at it, don’t meow at it, don’t call it, don’t wave food in front of its face, etc.  And yeah, people really do all these things.

If you meet someone with a service dog, don’t ask them about their disability.  I hope you would not ask a person using a wheelchair what was wrong with them (I think some people do, though), and you shouldn’t ask a person with a service dog what’s wrong with them.  There is no need to make comments like, “You aren’t blind.”  I’m pretty sure they will already know if they can see or not.

Don’t tell them how lucky they are that they get to take their dog everywhere with them or that you wish you could take your dog everywhere with you.  That’s sort of like telling a person that uses a wheelchair how lucky they are that they get to sit down all the time and that you wish that you could sit down all the time, too.  Someone with a service dog is lucky in the sense that they have their service dog and it allows them to be more independent, but they pay a high price for it.  They have a significant disability.  Most people don’t consider themselves lucky to be visually impaired, hearing impaired, unable to walk or use their arms the way people typically do, or to have depression so severe they think about suicide.
All you really need to do is treat them the way you would treat anyone else.  Since you would not walk up to most strangers and ask them if they have any serious medical problems, don’t do that when you see someone with a service dog, either.

Therapy Dogs International Discriminates Against People that Rely on Service Dogs

I had to post something about this because I think it is such an important issue.  Discrimination hurts everyone.  Even if you’re not disabled, even if you don’t have a service dog, even if you have no interest in therapy dogs, it still affects you.  No one benefits when someone is a victim of discrimination.

Therapy Dogs International is an organization that certifies therapy dogs, along with their owners.  Therapy dogs are dogs that have been trained to visit patients in hospitals, people in nursing homes, people in emergency shelters, autistic kids, etc.  They distract people from pain and fear, they provide a non-judgmental ear, they provide unconditional love, they give affection to the lonely, they give those in unbelievably difficult circumstances a moment of relaxation.  Therapy dogs need to be well-trained, well-behaved, friendly, not get nervous about strange things like wheelchairs or ventilators, tolerant of people that pet them a bit less than gently, and not get startled by sudden noises.  These are all characteristics of good service dogs, too.

However, Therapy Dogs International (TDI) has a new policy under which they will not certify service dogs as therapy dogs.  If a disabled person that relies on a service dog wants to do volunteer work with a therapy dog, they have to get a second dog to be certified as a therapy dog.  Of course, it takes more work and more money to own and care for two dogs than it does to care for one, and some disabled people have limited resources.

To certify a dog as a therapy dog, TDI requires the dog and its owner to pass a certification exam.  If someone that relies on a service dog has a second dog they want to certify as a therapy dog, TDI requires them to take the test with both dogs at the same time, presenting challenges that non-disabled dog owners don’t have to deal with when they take the test with only one dog.  Seems unfair, doesn’t it?

Ursula Kemp, president of TDI, says service dogs can’t be therapy dogs because dogs can’t pay attention to two people at once.  A service dog, she thinks, could not pay attention to its handler and pay attention to the person it was visiting for therapeutic reasons.  That might be true in some instances, but certainly is not true in all cases.  For instance, if someone with a seizure disorder took their service dog to visit elderly people in a nursing home, and the dog was busy being petted by the residents, it would still be able to notice if its handler began having a seizure.  It could then go over to its owner and provide assistance. 

Or what about someone that relies on a service dog to help them balance when walking?  That person could take their service dog to the library, sit in a chair, and the service dog could sit nearby while children practiced reading to the dog.  If the handler was sitting, they would not need their dog’s assistance at all.

There is also the fact that a number of other well-known therapy dog organizations are happy to certify service dogs as therapy dogs.  Apparently their presidents disagree with Ms. Kemp.

TDI’s policies violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law that prohibits this type of discrimination against the disabled, including those that rely on service dogs.  A complaint has been drafted and will be filed after the holiday weekend with the U.S. Department of Justice, the agency that enforces the American with Disabilities Act and investigates violations of the ADA.

If you want to read more about the situation, you can do so on Service Dogs Central, a website that provides a wealth of information about service dogs.

If you want to contact Ursula Kemp of TDI to let her know you disagree with her discriminatory policies (and I wish you would), you can contact her at:

Therapy Dogs International
88 Bartley Road
Flanders, NJ 07836
Phone: (973) 252-9800
Fax: (973) 252-7171

Don’t expect her to return your calls or respond to your emails, though.  Apparently she’s stopped doing that.  She’s even started blocking the email addresses of people that have contacted her to share their concerns.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

If You Want to Learn More

I’ve written a number of articles about service dogs, but I can’t post them on my blog because they were published exclusively by the publisher that bought them from me.  However, I can post links to them, so if you’re interesting in learning more, you can check them out.  

This article talks about what kind of service animals are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and discusses a variety of service animals, including service monkeys and miniature horses.

This article discusses who might benefit from a psychiatric service dog.

This article explains where you can and cannot take a psychiatric service dog.

This article explains where you can and cannot take an emotional support animal.   An emotional support animal, or ESA, is not the same thing as a service animal.  It’s basically a pet for someone with a mental disability that is recommended as part of their treatment plan by their health care provider.

Apparently there is a significant problem involving people pretending their pets are service dogs when they really aren’t, just so they can take them into public places where pets aren’t allowed.  This is illegal and can be punished with fines and even jail time.  It also creates problems for people that have real service dogs.

So When Am I Gonna Get This Dog, Anyway?

Good question.  I hope soon.  I am trying not to rush into things, though.  Sometimes I get excited about an idea and I want to do it now, right now.  But some things work out better if you do some planning and preparation first.

I am hoping to start searching for a suitable dog in a couple months.  In the meantime, I am continuing to do some research and learn as much as I can about living with a service dog and just about dogs in general.  I’ve always been a cat person.  We had a dog when I was a kid but I didn’t really pay that much attention to it.  I know next to nothing about dogs.  Or I did, when I first started looking into the possibility of getting a service dog.  I know a lot more now, but still have a lot to learn.

I’m also starting to save some money to cover the costs of my service dog.  I have a storage unit filled with stuff, most of it from my old apartment when I used to live in another city.  When I moved in with Mike, he already had furniture and other household stuff, so a lot of my things went into the storage unit.  That stuff has been in there for eight years now.  I’m thinking, if I haven’t used it in eight years, I probably don’t really need it, right?  So my plan is to clean out the storage unit, sell some of the stuff on Craig’s List if I can, and use that money to cover the adoption fee for my dog.  Plus, if I empty out the storage unit, I won’t have to pay the monthly fee for it anymore and that amount is about half of the estimated monthly cost of feeding and caring for a dog.  So taking care of my storage unit and the stuff in it is an important part of my plan to be able to afford a service dog.

In addition to learning about dogs and saving money, I’ve been looking for a trainer.  I think I’ve found one but I have a couple other people to call.  I guess I should check out all my options so I can make sure I’m making the best choice.  I really like the woman I think I’m going to go with, though.  Her name is Becky.  She has a little experience training service dogs, not a lot, but a lot of experience training dogs in general.  She asked really good questions when I talked to her so she could get a good idea of what I would need from her and she was easy to talk to.  She’s willing to meet with me and my therapist to discuss the specific tasks I need a dog to perform.  She’s also willing to help me select a dog.

I’m hoping to start looking for a dog in a couple months.  I don’t know how long it will take to find one.  I want to get a dog from a rescue group, and plan to contact both a golden retriever rescue and a Labrador retriever rescue near me.  There’s no guarantee either will have a suitable dog at that time, though.  I might have to wait a while or check with other groups until I find the right match for me.  Picking out the right dog may be the most difficult part of training a service dog and I don’t want to pick out the wrong one just because I’m impatient.