Nation needs to spell out definition of ‘service dog’


It seems nothing launches the nature-vs.-nurture debate like whether pit bulls are suitable to work as service dogs. Back in the 1980s, the city of Yakima joined many local jurisdictions in banning the breed entirely within city limits, amid yelps from human pit bull defenders that the action singled out the dogs and ignored irresponsible owners and breeders.

The issue has simmered for a quarter-century; then in April, the Yakima City Council approved an exemption that allows pit bulls as service animals. The change came on the advice of city attorneys, who said the all-out ban violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The exemption requires animals to be registered with the city, be restrained on leashes and muzzled in public, and the dogs must be kept in pens or locked enclosures when at home.

Pit bull supporters cheered, but opponents feared the exemption created an opening for dog owners who view intimidation by canines as a “service.” And indeed, an incident wasn’t long in coming.

Two weeks after the council action, the official accounts say, a registered pit bull service dog ran out the front door of a home, attacked a dog a block away and bit three people who tried to break up the fight. The city registration form had indicated the dog offered calm and emotional support to its disabled owner, channeled away negative emotions and provided a sense of security — the exact opposite of what the animal offered to its canine and human neighbors.

City officials say the owner misled them when he filled out paperwork that stated the dog was a service animal. The dog, which had no training, was being used as a therapy dog and not a service dog, which requires extensive training. The dog also wasn’t restrained as called for in the city ordinance. On top of that, the owner claims an animal control officer told him to register the dog as a service animal to get around the pit bull ban, an assertion the city vigorously denies.

All those problems may fall on the owner, but there are plenty of issues with the federal law, too. The ADA requires that service dogs be admitted to schools, restaurants, stores, public transportation, hotels and apartments. Landlords and businesses cannot ask to see certification for the dogs, and the city can ask only if the dog has been trained as a service animal and what kind of service it performs. The city cannot demand documentation showing the dog’s training or proof that the person registering a service animal is indeed disabled.

All that needs to change.

True service dogs go through extensive training and provide a valuable service to those who need it. The open-ended nature of the current law, which allows untrained “service” animals, is unfair to the legitimately trained dogs and the people who depend on them.

Under current law, business owners can tell a service-dog owner to leave if the dog is misbehaving, and increasing awareness of that provision could help. But a more comprehensive and direct solution would be to designate a group like the American Kennel Club to determine standards for service dogs and administer tests before a dog could be certified. That would provide certainty for dog owners, landlords, businesses and municipalities. This would also clear the way for legitimately trained pit bulls to perform their jobs, which works around the blanket breed ban.

This approach won’t resolve the nature vs. nurture debate, but at least it would provide a reasonable resolution of an emotional topic.

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5 thoughts on “Nation needs to spell out definition of ‘service dog’”

  1. Breeder “$” upporters…hahahhaaha….

    I agree that breeds prone to aggression shouldn’t be service dogs. German shepherds could be exempt (I guess), but they’re more likely to be police dogs than personal service dogs. It should be pretty obvious that if this law isn’t tweaked, every pit owner in Yakima is going to pass off their dog as something it isn’t.

    I wonder why pit bulls as service dogs is almost trendy. To me it’s like the intentional integration of a dangerous, unpredictable breed into a world where dogs have a working purpose within a community. Shunting reliable breeds out of the spotlight to prove pit bulls are just like other dogs…this makes me sound very paranoid but I’ve come to mistrust pit bulls and their 30+ years of advocacy.

    People like to say some pits are used as narcotics-sniffing dogs…I suppose eventually I’ll see one at the airport. Do you know why beagles are a popular narcotics dog? Not only because of their amazing noses, but also their biddable and friendly nature. Doesn’t hurt that they’re little and cute (if obnoxious…to me). People are OK with beagles in their airports because beagles don’t make them feel threatened.

    Also, the pit that attacked another dog bit three people in the frenzy. Is it really all that upfront to call it a “bite”?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pit Bulls should not be service dogs, period. They are far too volatile in their gene pool to be considered safe. There’s another thing that has to be screened. Safe, trainable breeds versus unpredictable, vicious breeds. Otherwise, might as well move on from dogs to miniature horses. If they need some comfort, get a real person, not a dog. A real person would work with the distressed and help them feel better about themselves in the long run, possibly curing them of what’s causing them distress. A dog would not. All the dog would do is sit there with its tongue hanging out, and possibly chase someone’s innocent child or pet in the attempt to chew them to ribbons. That adds more trauma in the knowledge that the comfort beast just caused more distress and nightmares because they disfigured a child, or worse, killed them.

    Either put extreme restrictions on what breeds can be service dogs, or just not have them at all. There are plenty of service replacements just waiting to fill their positions and they won’t move out of their way to kill someone’s baby.


  3. Please don’t put the AKC in charge of service dog training and certification. They will approve whatever their breeder $upporters demand they approve of.

    Liked by 1 person

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