Respect Our Service Dogs – National Service Dog Month
“You don’t look like you need a service dog.” These are the hurtful words heard by many alumni of our school, especially veterans who appear “normal” but bear the invisible scars of post-traumatic stress disorder and whose dogs afford them a quality of life that no drugs or therapy can offer. These words have also been heard by people with vision loss who may have some vision remaining and even seem to get around “normally” but are legally blind and rely on their guide dogs to avoid obstacles and navigate safely.
September is National Service Dog Month, reminding us of the impressive, lifesaving work performed by service dogs of all types. Here at our school, our service dogs include guide dogs for people with vision loss and service dogs for veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder and other disabilities.
Service dogs save lives. But, fake service dogs make it difficult for everybody, including our veterans, our graduates with vision loss, and community business owners.
A legitimate service dog is one that has been formally trained to perform specific tasks to help mitigate an individual’s specific disability. There are also responsibilities on the part of the dog’s handler. The dog must be on leash; it must not pose any safety issues; and it must be quietly well behaved.
If the dog is a legitimate, trained service dog and is behaving properly, then business and organizations are required to provide access.
The unfortunate misrepresentation of pets as fake service dogs leaves restaurants, stores, and other public facilities in an awkward position. If they suspect a fake service dog but get it wrong and don’t provide access to a real service dog, they receive bad press and possible legal action. A handler of a service dog is not required by law to provide any specific documentation or identification.
There are two questions that organizations and businesses are permitted to ask:
- Is this your service dog?
- What tasks does it perform?
At Southeastern Guide Dogs, we’re committed to providing the superbly trained service dogs that perform amazing tasks that dramatically improve the lives of handlers.
If you encounter someone with a service dog, give them respect. Give them the benefit of the doubt, remembering that not all disabilities are visible. Give them space by not interacting with their working dog. Respect the harness. And don’t forget to support your favorite service dog school, Southeastern Guide Dogs. #NationalServiceDogMonth