Service Animal Handlers: You Have Responsibilities, No?

I speak with prospective service animal handlers about realistic expectations for task training, and about filtering out the romanticism that circulates around being partnered with a service animal.The benefits of an emotional bond and physical contact with one’s service animal are real (such as dual oxytocin release), and there are various, practical ways to mitigate disabilities, but there are certain responsibilities. I explained, “I will visit you with your dog. We will got to various places of public accommodation and I will demonstrate that the dog performs the tasks that we discussed. I will “put you behind the wheel,” Alex. You will handle this dog and you will experience that the dog will work for you.” This last part is important because it is one of the details that you must remember – the dog is trained to work. I have worked with the dog. The dog will continue to work for you, if you maintain a healthy work ethic and the animal knows to look to you for direction. If you fail to maintain a healthy work, your service animal will not continue to work for you. “I mention this, Alex because when people forget that they haven’t been training with their dog, they rarely forget that they have the option to take their dog into places of public accommodation. This is especially problematic. Not only is an unreliably trained service animal of limited use in a public access setting, it is far more likely to be an intrusion or a hindrance – for the place of public accommodation and for others who may be patrons or passersby. Service animal handlers are not given a pass for being inconsiderate. Places of public accommodation have, can and will ask disabled people with disruptive dogs to remove their dogs. It is appropriate that they do so.

Service animal handlers sometimes have very close cousins. We call them pet parents, dog owners, etc. In this instance, their close relations share certain genetic material, called the Y (train?) gene. The Y gene is most commonly expressed through a failure to train, socialize and to otherwise maintain the work that one’s service animal was competently offering in the beginning of their relationship. An offshoot of this genetic expression is that while the service animal’s foundation and task training is being ignored; the service animal handler is resistant to ongoing communications with one’s service animal trainer, who’d really like to maintain the relationship with the handler – if only to support the continued success of the team. Reality-based service animal trainers will diligently attempt to promote communication with their clients, especially early on in the handler-dog relationship, but will not engage in stalking and harassment. If you tell me, “Dennis, bug off, it may be the last time you hear from me.” I’ll happily welcome you back to the flock, should you change your mind. Please let me know.”

All jokes aside – yes, I can stop joking, damn it! If you really don’t want to engage your dog through dog training and specifically through the work that will keep him of her operational and appropriate for places of public accommodation, let’s consider if an emotional support animal (which you may keep in your housing and bring with you on domestic airlines, but generally not in other places of public accommodation (check local and state civil rights laws).

We don’t want to create conditions that would impede the continued acceptance of service animals in our communities do we?

I’m happy to discuss it, as are several of our Canephile community members. Email me at canephile@gmail.com. Visit us at the Facebook Canephile group (facebook.com/groups/canephile) or comment, here at the blog. I hope to hear from you!

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