Saturday, September 5, 2015

Why I Am Not in Favor of Certification for Service Dogs

There is a lot of debate in the service dog community about whether or not there should be some sort of certification for service dogs.  For a long time, I thought it would be a good idea.  I mean, there should be some standards, right?  Service dogs should have to be trained properly.

And I still think it is important for there to be some standards and for service dogs to be trained well.  I just don't think certification is a good idea.  And here is why I think that.

Any type of certification system would create barriers for people with disabilities.

Let's say the system required you to have a form signed by your doctor saying you needed a service dog and then you and your dog had to pass a public access test, in which you demonstrated that your dog could behave appropriately in public.  Now, anyone with a service dog should be disabled and ideally would have their doctor on board with the idea of a service dog.  So they shouldn't have trouble getting such a form signed.  And if someone cannot pass a public access test with their dog, they probably shouldn't be taking their dog out in public.

So how would that be a problem?

It would cost something.  Who is going to pay for it?  Probably the person with a disability would be required to pay a fee in order to take the public access test and get a license for their service dog, kind of like when you get a driver's license.  You have to pay to take the test.  You have to pay to renew your license every so many years.

But getting a driver's license is optional.  If you can't afford to take the test, you don't have to get a license.  Having a disability and needing a service dog isn't optional.  You could argue that the disability part is not optional but that the service dog part is optional.  But service dogs are already expensive enough.  I am not in favor of creating additional costs.  And people with disabilities often live on very limited incomes.  Even a small fee could be a significant barrier.

What if it was free to register your service dog?  If it was free to take the test?  Well, I'm skeptical that it would be, because that means tax payers would have to cover that cost, probably by raising taxes, and tax payers are generally not in favor of paying for things for people with disabilities and low incomes, which is why Medicaid doesn't pay for service dogs in the first place.  But what if it was free?

Then there is the question of accessibility.  Where would the public access test be administered?  Getting places is a real challenge for many people with disabilities.  I am fortunate that I am able to drive and have my own car, but many people with disabilities do not.

Those that are able to use public transportation and have access to public transportation rely on that.  But not everyone lives in areas with buses, trains or subways.  I don't.  And some people are unable to use public transportation due to their disability.  For instance, not all buses, trains, train stations, subways and subway stops are wheelchair accessible.  But even when they are, or are supposed to be, there can be problems.

Talk to someone that relies on public buses or subways for transportation and uses a wheelchair.  You'll hear stories about buses with wheelchair lifts that don't work, bus drivers that say they don't know how to deploy the wheelchair lift, and bus drivers that just flat out refuse to allow someone in a wheelchair to board.  Yeah, seriously, that happens.  You'll hear stories about getting off the subway at a stop that is supposed to be wheelchair accessible, then finding the elevator is out of order and there is no way to get out of the underground subway station except to wait for the next train and take it to the next accessible stop.  Yeah, that happens, too.

So imagine you have this test you have to take with your service dog and you get to the bus stop in plenty of time to take the bus to the test site, but the driver tells you the wheelchair lift is broken.  Or simply refuses to let you board, telling you to wait for the next bus because he's in a hurry.  But if you wait for the next bus, you'll be late for the test and have to reschedule.

And what about people with disabilities that can't use public transportation?  Either it doesn't exist in their area, or the public transportation in their areas is not wheelchair accessible, or their disability in some way prevents them from using public transportation.  In large cities, there is usually some sort of transportation for people that can't use regular public transportation, often referred to as para-transit.  The service has to be booked in advance and provides wheelchair accessible rides for a fee.

Supposing the fee is not a problem for a person with a disability living on a very small income, the reliability of these services is often an issue.  I am frequently reminded of how lucky I am not to have to rely on such a service when my friends that do talk about how they were an hour late for a doctor's appointment because their ride was late and then the doctor was unable to see them and they had to reschedule and then they had to wait several hours for their ride back home.  They talk about having to be picked up at 8:00 am for a noon appointment and not being able to get a ride home until 4:00 pm, and then that ride being two hours late, so it takes 10 hours to go to a doctor's appointment.  They talk about how their ride home was several hours late and their doctor's office was closing so they had to sit outside in the dark or the rain, hoping their ride really would eventually show up.  What if you had to rely on that service to get to the test site?

Of course, there is no para-transit service in some areas.  There is none where I live.  The only type of transportation service available to me is through the Medicaid office, and it only provides transportation to medical appointments that are covered by Medicaid.  So if you lived in my area and didn't drive or have a friend to take you, I have no clue how you'd get to the test site at all.

And all this talk about transportation is assuming there would be test sites in every county or every city or something, so that there would be a test site close to everyone that needed to take the test.  But I kind of doubt it would work that way.  In small towns or rural counties, there probably would not be enough people needing to take the test with their dog to make it feasible or cost-effective to have a test site there.  Maybe they would only be in big cities.  But para-transit services are often limited to one city or one county and buses and subways are often limited to a similar area.  So even people with access to para-transit services or public transportation may not be able to get where they needed to go.

In a nutshell,  cost and accessibility would create real barriers for people with disabilities that need service dogs.  And people with disabilities typically deal with enough barriers in day-to-day life already.  I am opposed to creating new barriers.


  1. Very well put Kelly. I too agree that service dog certification would present some extreme challenges for a lot of people - challenges which are not necessary nor desirable.

    1. Yeah. And when you are disabled, sometimes even small things present huge challenges. I would hate to create more when it's not necessary.