Last year the news was full of headlines about veterans and their service dogs being turned away from public places such as restaurants, airports, and, in the case of an Ohio substitute teacher, work. It's a complicated problem; businesses don't want to turn people away, but without knowing the difference between a service dog and a pet, their hands are tied when other customers complain.
Why would someone complain about a service dog? Unfortunately, there's been a good deal of abuse of national service dog laws lately. Anyone can buy a red or yellow vest online, claim their pet is a support animal, and take it places pets aren't typically allowed. If the animal isn't well behaved, it gives actual service dogs a bad rep. Also, keep in mind some people are allergic to dogs or afraid of them, and some people just don't like dogs.
For these folks, seeing a dog in a restaurant or sitting next to them (or their children) in an airport can provoke a strong reaction that leads to confrontation. It's frustrating and embarrassing for the veteran, confusing for business owners, and upsetting for the community.
Service dogs receive extensive training that allows them to help their handlers in public. (Photo Credit: American Humane)
Veterans who have a service dog say their companion has allowed them to return to "normal" life. Service dogs can help veterans cope with depression, anxiety, and PTSD by recognizing signs of panic attacks, awakening handlers from nightmares, and signaling them to engage in coping mechanisms that break cycles of anger and paranoia. Service dogs can even be taught to block strangers from approaching their handlers with a passive maneuver. Of course, service dogs can also help disabled veterans who have mobility issues.
This is one problem that is potentially easy to solve. Veterans need their service dogs, and businesses and the community at large want to support veterans in whatever way they can. Service dogs are unobtrusive in public; they do not approach people who aren't their handlers and, trained correctly, they will quietly do their jobs without causing any disruption in public settings.
Veterans say their service dogs allow them to return to normal life. (Photo Credit: Annie Watt Agency for American Humane)
Most people are surprised to learn there are national laws regarding where service dogs can and can't go, but no national standard for what qualifies as a service dog. Ending the confusion about what is a service dog and what is a pet is as simple as creating one national standard.
A variety of "service dog" bills have been presented in the House and Senate, but The American Humane and the National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations (NAVSO) are the first to create a national credentialing standard for service dogs. This measure would allow veterans to keep their service dogs with them in public places without fear of confrontation. This week they are asking everyone to support this standard by signing a Change.org petition that will go to the House and Senate Committees for Veterans' Affairs.
Service dogs are true partners for their companions. (Photo Credit: American Humane)
If you'd like to help veterans keep their service dogs with them without fear of confrontation, sign the petition, and let lawmakers know you support this common sense solution. The petition can be signed and shared right here.