Sunday, April 6, 2014

Service Dogs in Schools

I read an article today about a family that is upset because they got a service dog for their six-year-old little boy and they want the school to provide someone to care for the service dog while their child is at school and the school has refused to do that because, they say, it's not their responsibility to care for a child's service dog.

This is becoming more and more of an issue these days, as there are now a number of organizations that place service dogs (or untrained puppies, in the case of one organization that sells "diabetic alert dogs" to families of diabetic children for $20,000) with young children that are not able to steward a service dog themselves.  In the past, when service dogs were primarily used to help blind people, this wasn't an issue because the programs that train and place guide dogs for the blind won't place dogs with children under the age of 16.  They require that all recipients be old enough and mature enough to care for their own dogs and also require that they complete orientation and mobility training first, which means they have to learn coping skills to allow them to cope with their disability before receiving a service dog. 

That makes good sense.  But there are some organizations now that provide service dogs (or untrained puppies, as mentioned above) with small children, some of whom are also severely disabled, that cannot possible care for a dog themselves.  The children also have not yet learned to manage their disabilities as well as they can without a dog.  I don't think it's a good idea to place service dogs with children in these cases, but there is big money in it.  As I said, one organization sells puppies for $20,000, telling parents the puppies will alert to changes in their children's blood sugar and that the parents can later have the dogs trained to actually do tasks, like bring the child a juice box if their blood sugar drops.  Parents, desperate for any help for a seriously ill child, shell out the $20,000.  Some of them are now suing said organization for selling them untrained puppies instead of service dogs, but what did they really expect when they were told they were getting an eight-week-old puppy?

Anyway.  I think that's why these organizations do it, because they make a lot of money, not because they care about the kids or the dogs.

But then the parents want these dogs to go to school with their kids and they want the school to provide a handler for the dog.  Which is not required under state or federal law and which, in my opinion, is not reasonable.

In this particular article, it seems the parents did not bother to work all that out with the school before getting the service dog.  The dog, according to the article, was not very well trained and the school actually paid for additional training for the dog, which I think is remarkable and which I also think was not the school's responsibility. 

The parents seem to lack understand of what it means to care for a service dog.  The article mentioned a younger sibling pulling the dog's tail and trying to ride her like a horse, and apparently the six-year-old is unable to protect his dog from that sort of behavior, and apparently the parents don't correct the toddler in a timely manner.  I feel sorry for the dog. 

The parents are also quoted as saying the only assistance with the dog that the six-year-old needs is someone to hold the dog's leash in the hallways between classes.  Um, handling a service dog involves more than that.  The dog would need at least one potty break during the school day, and if the six-year-old is unable to hold the dog's leash, then he must also be unable to take the dog outside and pick up its poop.  So which school employee is supposed to be responsible for that?  The dog would need access to water at some point during the school day, probably more than once.  And no matter how well the dog is trained, there will be times it will not want to lie under the kid's desk, times it will get distracted, times it will need to be given commands and corrected and stuff.

I really don't think six-year-old kids should have service dogs at all, but if they do, then it's not the school's job to care for the dog.

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