Service Dogs can be amazing partners for people with disabilities, helping them regain their independence. They may prevent life-threatening situations or help during them. Tasks can range anywhere from guiding people who are blind, to alerting low or high blood sugar levels. These tasks are vital to their handler’s ability to function.

Few dogs have what it takes to become a service dog. The dogs have to be able to focus and work in situations and environments that would be stressful or frightening to most dogs. They are trained to ignore high-level distractions such as food, other dogs, people, a cat crossing the street, you name it. Because of this some dogs may not be allowed to interact with other people or dogs while working, so always ask before approaching a service animal!

Service animals are protected by Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) federal law which grants them access to establishments that normally do not allow dogs such as grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, etc. Staff may legally make 2 inquiries about potential service animals in their stores: “Is that a service animal?” and “What task is the animal trained to perform?”. They cannot ask for proof of the dog’s training, nor ask you to demonstrate their tasks. While this may seem nice at first, many people abuse this and falsely label their dogs as service animals.

According to the ADA:

“Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”

Some individuals bring their dogs into stores under the guise of an emotional-support animal. A large portion of the public do not realize that emotional-support animals do not qualify as service animals and do not have the same public-access rights as service dogs. They do not require as much training nor as sound temperaments, leading to potentially hazardous situations. Dogs falsely representing as service dogs have bitten in public areas. Not only does bringing a dog who is temperamentally unfit into stores put people at risk, it also puts law-abiding, responsible service dogs at risk of physical harm and diminished access rights with potential changes to laws.
Service animals should not be taken lightly, they work hard for their partner and their partner's well-being depends upon them. When you see a service dog out and about, don’t make sounds or try to get their attention. If you’d like to interact, calmly walk up to their handler and ask if you can. Don’t take it personally if they decline, many handlers are still willing to answer questions and talk about their partner.

For more information:

http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm

Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, What’s the Difference?