Thursday, June 30, 2011


An interesting thing happened in the hotel this week.  A couple checked in and then wheeled in a little dog in a stroller.  When told that we do not accept pets, they claimed that the dog is a "service dog" and not a pet.  I asked if they had informed us that they would be bringing a dog when they made the reservation and I was told in loud and self righteous terms that in America they do not have to tell us anything and we can't turn them away.  He was a very large, very aggressive guy.  I suspect  his demeanor and his "this is America" rant get them into pretty much wherever they want to go.

My first reaction was to hop on the internet and learn about the rules around service dogs, then I googled around about abuses of the law.  (This sort of this is something I love to dig into.)  I am aware that there are service dogs for more disabilities than blindness.  What I did not know is that the term service animal has become overworked to the point that people who are psychologically attached to their pets can find a doctor to say that the animal is necessary for their mental health and POOF!  the pet is a service animal.

The Americans with Disabilities Act states that a service dog must be trained to perform a task or service that the disabled individual cannot.  However, (1)  there is no requirement in the law with regard to the training of the animals and (2) there is no requirement that the owner of the animal have papers or any other identification that the animal is actually a trained service animal. A business may inquire about 2 things:  Are you disabled?  Is that a service dog?  Yes to both and that is the end of it.  No more questions allowed, no proof required.

It is also illegal to ask what a person's disability is.  So in this case, a woman who appeared to have no physical issues was wheeling a little dog around in a stroller, the dog did not appear to be performing any service for her.  It just looked like an old dog, curled up and sleeping.  They went in the bar, the breakfast area and apparently out to dinner in a local restaurant with the dog.

As a hotel which does not allow pets, this will require a deep cleaning of the room costing time and therefore money.  But if a guest checks into that room and has allergies triggered, it would be a big problem for us.  We cannot charge the "disabled" guest extra for the special cleaning  (per the ADA) we can only charge extra for any damages to the room. (We charge extra for cleaning a room in which someone has smoked due to the extra cleaning required as we advertise as smoke free.)  So for those who question the reason a business might not welcome an animal,  that is one of the issues.

Another is that many guests are not comfortable having a dog in the dining room while they are eating, so we are left to explain the dog as a service animal not a pet.  Why is that an issue?  I think because the dog is not visibly performing in a service capacity.  The owners have not attired the dog in a vest or with an identifying collar or tag.

In fact, some other postings I read by owners of what appear to be to be non-traditional service dogs were quite strident about the fact that they need not identify their dogs as service dogs or themselves as disabled persons.  They felt that they owed no one any explanation for the presence of their dogs in stores, restaurants, theaters, hotels and other places where animals are not normally allowed.   I don't understand this attitude.  Being disabled is not equal to being somehow privileged and  above being responsive to inquiries on behalf of businesses which must protect themselves and their customers.

Toni Eames of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) says that comfort dogs, sometimes referred to as helping dogs, are not trained. “Comforting you and licking your face is not a trained task. Grounding a person is not a trained task,” she says. According to IAADP:

While a dog’s companionship may offer emotional support, comfort or a sense of security, this in and of itself does NOT qualify as a “trained task” under the ADA, thus it does not give a disabled person the legal right to take that dog out in public as a legitimate service dog. Setting up a realistic training plan to transform a suitable dog into an obedient, task trained service dog is the only way to legally qualify a dog to become a service dog whose disabled handler is legally permitted to take the dog into restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, medical offices and other places of public accommodation.

No one wants to have their beloved pet put in the cargo hold of a plane, but the many owners who claim their show dog or lap dog is a service dog in order to have it ride in the cabin is illegal and unethical. An industry has also sprung up selling vests, harnesses and collars indicating a dog is a service animal. No proof is required to buy these items. They also provide certification papers for a fee - again, no proof necessary.

The flexibility designed to help the disabled also allows the law to be easily abused. These people are undermining legitimate service dogs.

"Each time an employee has an encounter with a fake service dog (and yes, they know when you're lying), this brings us tangibly closer to the implementation of laws, regulations, and policies that make it harder for me to live my life without being treated as a second-class citizen."


hokgardner said...

I am 100% a dog person. I love dogs. However, I have never understood why people feel the need to take true dogs everywhere. I don't want to eat at a nice restaurant and have someone's purse dog staring at me. Nor do I want to stay in a hotel room that smells like dog. If you want to take your dog, find a hotel that accepts them.


knittergran said...

Oh dear. You have apparently forgotten that everyone is special and rules are for other people.
Tsk, tsk, tsk! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Wow, if a "comfort dog" = service dog then all of my dogs (and cats) qualify!

I worked closely with a research center for women with disabilities. They would be horrified about the abuse of the term "service dog". Actually I thought all service dogs had to wear their jackets, no? These people weren't smart enough to even fake that!

Lisa said...

Mr. THIS IS AMERICA should love France then because dogs are routinely seen in restaurants and all sorts of public places.

Except I'm guessing he'd hate France where the entitlements are for everyone and not just him.

Seriously, what is wrong with people?

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Oh, you have hit on one of my pet peeves!

My stepsister actually just bought little jackets (or whatever you call them) for her dauchsaunds and calls them her "service dogs"--exactly as you are saying. And you're dead right--there is no questioning.

I am always tempted, when I get on a plane and someone has a dog, to tell the attendant I'm highly allergic--what would they do then?

You know I love dogs and have two myself--it is selfishness and inconsideration I loathe.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I am a bit late posting a comment. "Comfort" dogs ARE NOT service dogs. I have a psychiatric service dog for PTSD and I HATE it when these badly behaved dogs are out in public. A dog cannot be doing any type of work if it is in a stroller. They should either be carried or walking on the floor!

Jenn- Your sister deserves to be turned in as this is a federal offense! If you said that on an airplane, and the dog was a service dog, they wouldn't do anything.

FWI to the original blogger you can ask what tasks the dog performs to mitigate the disability.