I have long had an interest in the expanded definition and use of service-dogs in US society. Historically these animals were used to extend capability to individuals with sensory deficits, primarily sight. Appropriate access laws and policies have been in place for some time with respect to these dogs.
The January 15 “Psychiatric News” of the American Psychiatric Association had a sympathetic article on the topic. I wrote a letter to the editor that was published on April 16 in response to this article.
I have been chagrined to see a trend towards creating a special class of animals to provide for the subjective comfort of their owners, to the degree that this imposes duties upon others to provide access and rights to the dog and their owners. For example right to be in workplaces, on public transportation, restaurants and other public accommodations that do not permit pets. At this point to my knowledge the issue has been addressed in the regulatory and not judicial sphere. A test case or two in the Federal courts would be illuminating and may soon be overdue.
While I can’t dispute the strongly held positions and passions of others who feel the need for such accomodations for emotional issues, society at large has an equally compelling right to set limits on the obligations of others to participate or endorse these views.
It should also be noted that there is no meaningful credentialing of such service dogs or the claims of those who wish to use them. A web search will find any number of sites that will provide credentials for the animals and endorsement for their owners based upon self-report of need. See: http://www.servicedogsamerica.org/ and http://www.psychdog.org/index.html as a small sample of the many sites on the topic.
See http://www.pawnation.com/2009/05/21/service-animals-pets-helping-people/ and click on the slide show showing a number of ‘service animals’. Based upon the criteria that the animal do something and perform a service, which of them do you feel are legitimate in their function, and warrant the definition and rights of a service dog?
By the way, I have two dogs (King Charles Spaniels) and am rather fond of them, but they are pets, not therapists – regardless of he companionship and comfort that they may provide.