Disabled community members engage us about service animals and emotional support animals fairly often. Clients typically have obtained medical documentation of a qualifying disability and are very willing to share it.
This post is about an anonymized disabled client who has documentation of medical need for an emotional support animal and my experience in supporting her. For the record, Jackie has been informed, verbally and in writing, multiple times about her rights and responsibilities as a person with a disability with regard to service animals and emotional support animals.
Jackie is an older woman, a native New Yorker, fluent in Spanish and is conversationally comfortable with English. Her challenges include a personality disorder – in my lay person’s view – this disorder is expressed in frequent interpersonal drama and a general negativity in her interpretation of how people treat her. Jackie has told me, repeatedly, “Dennis, I don’t like it when people tell me I have to do things.” Naturally, I try to curb my native sarcasm and leave my dictatorial cudgel at home on days that Jackie and I are scheduled to work together.
Jackie’s Spidey-sense tingles against all but my most carefully crafted attempts to guide her behavior with her dog. When she shares that she is taking her untrained, and somewhat skittish dog into public access settings, I explained that in NYC she has no protection under local, state or federal law to take her largely unprepared emotional support animal into the supermarket, big box warehouse, or the library. She got a particular gleam in her eyes and told me that after her dog jumped onto a counter in the library, someone asked her to not bring the dog back. I shared, “It is likely that being asked to remove your dog is the harshest consequence you are likely to face, but I would suggest that you remove her without inviting a lot of debate, if you are asked to do so.” Jackie asked, “What’s the problem if I want to argue with them?” My swift reply, “Your dog is there in violation of the law. The business is at risk of being fined. Your dog is untrained and otherwise unprepared to behave appropriately in that environment. You are completely out of line, in such a situation.” Surprisingly, this was accepted without umbrage.
You might wonder why I am working with this client and her dog? She believes that the dog will some day be able to be an operational service animal. I told her that I think it wise that we stop discussing service animal training, for the time being, as there’s a great deal of foundation work that needs to be accomplished before the dog could be considered a credible service animal candidate. jackie appears to be motivated to get through it. Time will tell. In the meantime, I’m supporting her in her dog training, as best I can.
For now, that will just have to do.