I consider the role of a service and/or guide dog in society to be one of the highest callings our canine companions can perform, and their use to assist their disabled owners must be protected under the law.
But I am disgusted by the epidemic level of calls I get to "certify" dogs as service animals by non-disabled owners who see nothing wrong with using the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was enacted to protect the disabled, as a way for them to take their companion dogs into restaurants or onto public transportation just because they want to.
The ADA reads, in part:
"Violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act may include penal and civil damages, depending on the nature of the complaint. Damages can be as much as $50,000 for the first offense and $100,000 for subsequent offenses."
"Under the ADA and its implementing regulations, the right of a blind person to be accompanied by a guide dog in places which serve the public is guaranteed. Section 36.104 of Title 3 specifies that "service animals," which include guide dogs, are covered by the statute. The right of a blind person to be accompanied by a guide dog is guaranteed and the term 'public accommodation' is also defined under this provision."
In California, the penalties for preventing a guide dog user from exercising rights to access are covered in California Penal Code Section 365.5, which reads in part:
"(a) Any blind person, deaf person or disabled person who is a passenger on any common carrier, airplane, motor vehicle, railway train, motorbus, streetcar, boat or any other public conveyance or mode of transportation operating with this state, shall be entitled to have with him or her a specially trained guide dog, signal dog or service dog."
"(b) no blind person, deaf person, or disabled person and his or her specially trained guide dog, signal dog or service dog shall be denied admittance to accommodations, advantages, facilities, medical facilities, including hospitals, clinics and physician's offices, telephone facilities, adoption agencies, private schools, hotels, lodging places, places of public accommodation, amusement or resort and other places to which the general public is invited within this state because of the guide dog signal dog or service dog."
The law is for the disabled, not for non-disabled people who just want to take their dog everywhere they go.
The people who plan to abuse the law are for the most part very up front with me about their intentions, and feel secure that since the ADA prohibits asking someone to divulge the nature of their medical condition, that they have come up with a foolproof way to practice this deception and that the fear of lawsuits and exorbitant fines gives them the leverage to do so.
To make matters worse, there are several Internet companies that enable these impostors by selling anyone with a credit card service dog ID tags, badges and patches, service dog vests (designed to give the impression that the dog is an agency-trained guide, hearing or service dog), and service dog registration "credentials."
Under the ADA, a disabled owner is not required to carry a special identification card or training documentation for their dog, and disabled owners who wish to obtain a city/county service dog tag can do so by filling out an application at their local animal control office.
The animal control agency can ask for proof of disability (disabled license plates, disabled parking placard, or SSDI award letter), and is also permitted to ask you what tasks your service dog performs for you (alerts you to a change in your medical condition, picks up dropped items, provides mobility support and balance assistance, carries objects for you, opens doors, etc.), although not any information that identifies your specific medical condition. Your doctor can also provide a medical prescription for your service dog.
You will be required to sign an affidavit to the effect that you understand the penalties under CA Penal Code Section 365.7, which reads in part:
"Any person who, knowingly and fraudulently represents himself or herself, through verbal or written notice, to be the owner or trainer of any canine licensed as, to be qualified as, or identified as, a guide, signal, or service dog, as defined in subdivisions (d), (e), and (f) of Section 365.5 and paragraph (6) of subdivision (b) of Section 54.1 of the Civil Code, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment."
And you can't take your dog.
Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @csi4K9s. These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.