For today’s program, I opted to set aside our regular format, in favor of convening a panel discussion about service animals, propelled largely by the growing trend of people using bogus service animals and emotional support animals. Indeed, a key catalyst for holding this discussion today was the recent news account—and this photo that went viral—of the turkey ostensibly functioning as an emotional support animal on a commercial airline flight.
The panel consisted of:
LINDA FELD who has a rare form of muscular dystrophy, is a graduate of the Canine Companions For Independence program, and as of 2012, has been living with her service dog, Keith. (A photo of Linda, with Keith, sits atop this post.)
MARTHA JOHNSON, the Public Relations Coordinator for the Southeast Region of Canine Companions for Independence, or CCI, which provides highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to people with disabilities. CCI has been very active in the area of education regarding legitimate versus bogus service dogs.
ROBERTA has been a flight attendant with a commercial airline for the better part of 30 years, and participating openly in this discussion would have constitute grounds for immediate dismissal from her airline. So she spoke with a certain degree of anonymity, while offering a wealth of observations and stories about airline passengers accompanied by both authenic and bogus service dogs.
JOANNE MILES is something of an activist in this realm, chiefly in response to issues that have arisen for her husband, Ken—who became blind in 2001, and uses a guide dog, named Marty, from Southeastern Guide Dogs.
(Photo: Bill Ingram/The Palm Beach Post)
We addressed a myriad of issues, starting with What a service animal is?, as defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which chiefly involves the sort of training the animal has undergone to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. We also covered how emotional support animals are not service animals, and how easy it is to make online purchases of bogus vests and paperwork that suggest someone’s pet is a service animal–coincidentally, early that morning, “The Today Show” aired a piece about emotional service animal scams on airlines. (Also coincidentally, I noted that two days before this show, while shopping at Publix, I spotted a service dog named Roscoe, who, his human explained, prevents her from falling….)
Other points we covered included existing legislation in this realm, which currently is toothless and difficult to enforce—Canine Companions for Independence is gathering signatures on a petition designed to persuade legislator to create more forceful laws dealing with service dog fraud (www.cci.org/stopfraud)–an array of experiences aboard flights with both authentic and bogus service animals, how a policy seeking to root out phony users of service animals had the unintended and ironic consequence of punishing disabled people and veterans with legitimate service dogs, and much more. (www.cci.org, www.guidedogs.org)
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