The importance of service dogs


There is a push to tighten the leash on people using fake service dogs here in Connecticut. Richard and Vicki Horowitz from Bark Busters answer our questions on the issue. 

What is a service dog– and who is allowed to have them?

Bark Busters: “According to the American with Disabilities Act a service dog ‘is specifically task-trained to help an individual with a disability that substantially limits one or more life activities. Disabilities may include visual difficulties, hearing impairments, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), seizures, ambulatory issues, mental illness, autism, and more.’ These dogs are task trained to perform duties that people can’t perform because of their impairment.”

What kind of training does a service dog go through?

Bark Busters: “The training for service dogs is very intense and the type of training depends on the work that the service dogs will provide. The training can take 1 – 5 years depending on the skills needed. These dogs may retrieve items for their owner, provide physical support for balance problems, carry medicine in a specialized back pack, alert an owner or emergency personnel to a medical crisis, and even interrupt panic attacks. According to the ADA, people with disabilities have a righ to train their own service animal and do not need to put them in a professional training program. An Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test evaluates the ability of the dog to be an appropriate, unobtrusive helpmate in public.”

However, manditory registration of service animals is not permissable under the ADA.

Are there specific breeds that qualify to be service dogs?

Bark Busters: “No, many different breeds can be trained to be services dogs. An important consideration: if you see a service dog in public, resist the urge to pet it – as it is working.”

What is an emotional support animal?

Bark Busters: “According to the American Kennel Club, to be legally considered an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) ‘the pet needs to be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to a person with a disabling mental illness.’ Generally, a therapist, psychiatrist or psychologist decides that a pet would help with the mental health of a patient, easing anxiety, depression and phobias by providing a calming presence. Unlike service dogs that have access to anywhere the public goes, ESAs cannot.”

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