Monday, November 14, 2005

Service Dogs

Perhaps I just lead too sheltered a life down here but I have never heard the term "service dogs". They are dogs which, in addition to the well known "seeing eye" dogs, are permitted by law in most states as well as by federal law to accompany anyone with a disability and a medically-verified need for a service dog - anywhere and everywhere.

What brings this up is this story about a woman named Sharon Kehoe who moved from Duval, Wash. to Midland, Texas recently. Her service dog accompanies her because she is hearing impaired and also suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. She has run into a lot of trouble in Midland in trying to enter restaurants, the post office and even the DPS (Texas' state police) offices.

The report points out that the trouble is usually related to a lack of education on the part of the public as to what is and is not allowed. For instance, restaurant owners know that they may not allow an animal into their establishments unless it is accompanying a blind person. What they frequently don't know is that state and federal laws permit them, or rather require them to allow the entry of any other type of service dog.

Here's another type of service dog that would have to be allowed to accompany its owner anywhere.
Ely, a golden retriever and Labrador mix has had an easier time in Midland with his job as an assistance dog for 18-year-old Kelsey Horkey, who has spina bifida.

"He goes almost everywhere with me," explained Horkey, who said being asked to leave behind Ely would be like being asked to leave behind her wheelchair.

"And he basically does every little thing you can imagine except type on a computer. When I drop something he picks it up. He can open doors, open the refrigerator. He can close doors. He can turn off and on light switches."
Amazing. Authorities say that for someone like Sharon Kehoe whose disability is not readily apparent, it can be difficult in constantly confronting people who won't allow her service dog to accompany her. "It can be especially difficult for deaf people or the hearing impaired," Soltes said (Sheri Soltes, president and founder of Austin-based Texas Hearing and Service Dogs, an organization that trains assistance dogs). "Their disability is not apparent to somebody who is just looking at them, and they have communication burdens as well, so they can have the hardest time of anybody."
For protection under Texas law, service animals must be trained by an organization that is recognized by rehabilitative agencies, explained Soltes, who helped write the 1995 additions to the statute.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, however, doesn't have the same training requirement.
"I'm tired of being asked, 'Excuse me ma'am are you blind?' and having to say, 'No sir, it's none of your business what's wrong with me, this is my service dog,"' explained Kehoe, who said Mocha is a support animal for her post-traumatic stress disorder as well as a hearing dog.

"Mocha is a security companion, she keeps me comfortable and feeling safe. And for my hearing, well she hears for me -- the door, the microwave, the alarm clock and my general surroundings," she said.

"Right now I'm trying to figure out how to work on rattlesnakes with her, because she hasn't been around them before."
Rattlesnakes? Mark in Mexico humbly suggests a more appropriate service animal than a dog for detecting and eliminating a rattlesnake problem.

The Cape Buffalo - 1500-1800lbs. - has killed more hunters in Africa than any other animal. Should have no problem stomping a rattlesnake flat but would experience some problems in fitting into the local White Castle.

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