Our leaders in this country decided there should be a legal, living helper for disabled individuals.
They would be similar to companions – or, as we call them, seeing eye dogs – that the folks with limited sight have had walking next to them for many years.
Remembering as a kid, we marveled at the dog with the handle sticking up from his back, so trained and alert. We began to notice as all the curbs at the corners of every city block became tapered and sloped. Finally, wheel chair travelers gained the privilege that all citizens should have, to move from place to place with more ease. More understanding has brought empathy, and hearts have opened for all of our people to be there for each other. It has become a wonderful time as all citizens can experience freedom to escape some of the physical and emotional restrictions of everyday life.
Along the way, the American Disability Act (ADA) began setting a standard set of rules for Americans with definite emotional and physiological disabilities to have a four-legged companion to relieve the stress. It was found that they could do many unseen things for individuals such as lower blood pressure and quiet fears and even stop stress attacks like anxiety. It was claimed that practically any animal could be made capable of doing the job. So, the list in the law included snakes, monkeys, pigs and you name it, it was probably included. The regulations were, and in some cases still are, that people were taking very repulsive companions on the airlines and insisting that they were emotional support animals forcing the airlines to accept the companions onboard the flights, because to turn my pig away is now against the law, you know.
A disabled person is not required to divulge the nature of their disability because that is a violation of privacy and discriminates against their freedom. For example; you can’t go up to someone in a wheelchair and ask them what happened to them or why they are in the chair. That is not only rude, which is enough, but it is for sure very much against the law.
In the early 1990s, just after the law came into effect, everyone who wanted to take their pet any place they desired, took advantage of this and went into restaurants, department stores and grocery stores challenging the owners and managers to do something about. The business people, after a weak argument usually succumbed to the bluffing troublemaker, being aware what the fine for discrimination could amount to, and fear of a lawsuit to follow. As I talked to a grocery manager of a local store, she related a story of a lady who let her “service dog” jump into the meat display in order to, she said, “pick out his own steak for dinner.” The grocer told me that, because the dog was in that case, walking around and tearing some packages open, it all had to be thrown away, at the loss of several thousand dollars.
So, around 2011 the law was revisited and revamped to exclude many, if not most, of the animals dubbed emotional support or service animals. The division became wider and stronger. Emotional support animals are allowed on airlines, but not most any other places. They are not legally allowed into grocery stores, department stores or other public places unless they are invited by management such as hardware big box stores. They certainly do’t have to be invited in to restaurants.
The new visitation of the federal ordinance also made a bigger gap between emotional support animals and service animals, or shall we say dogs, because that is what most of them are. The emotional support dog is not a service dog, but the service dog can be an emotional support animal. The most obvious difference is that emotional support is just what the name implies, pet them, hug them, cuddle them and take them to hospitals, nursing homes and children’s hospitals, they will love you for it and your dog will love them as they help them to heal, and you will glow with pride. They, of course, are meant for emotional stability of the owner as well.
The support dog must be lovable and affectionate and have all the qualities that we just discussed of the emotional support dog, but it must do something for the owner, it must have a job to do. The support dog must work as if it were a nurse on wages. They are not a game to play, they are serious professionals who do a job and do it with all their heart.
Don Dinsmore is a Navy veteran and regular contributor to the Kent Reporter.