Transcript: Service Animals

Boris: It’s been 10,539 days since the Americans with Disability Act has passed and you are parked in the Access Aisle.

B: Good morning, and welcome to the as my first name is Boris and my last name is hard to say, this month we’re gonna be talking about service animals, but before we get to the interview, I’d like to set the scene a little bit, with a quick history lesson. The month was June and the year was 1928, the world was in recovery from the end of the First World War, and still 90 years away from the release of Drake’s fifth studio album. Nashville born, Morris Frank, and his dog Buddy stood on West Street in New York City surrounded by wide-eyed reporters with all eyes fixed on them, they watched in awe as Morris and Buddy stepped into the roadway and made it all the way across the street with not a single misstep: setting the news world on fire with the story of the 20-year-old blind man from Tennessee who regained his independence with the service of a dog. Morris and Buddy would go on to be the founders of the first, and now oldest, guide dog school in the United States: “The Seeing Eye.” Now with that out of the way, let’s introduce our guests today.

Emily: Hi there, my name’s Emily Beasley, I am the Youth Leadership Coordinator here at Able, South Carolina, and my dog’s name is Tucker.

Dori: Good morning. My name is Dori Tempio and I am the Director of Community Outreach & Consumer Rights for Able South Carolina. And my service dog is Shack.

B: Okay, Emily how did you decide or come to the decision that you needed Tucker.

E: Yeah, so, Tucker is an emotional support animal, which means he’s not a service animal, and the rights are a little bit different. But I needed more support at home than I did out in public, and so I decided to get Tucker when I… My depression got really bad and my anxiety got really bad. And so we looked around and went to a breeder who had several other dogs these as service animals and the ESAs and so we went with her and I picked him up.

D: I’ve had four service dogs total and the all four of my service dogs have come from accredited organizations, under Assistance Dogs International. And I spent a lot of time doing research from when I lived in Maryland, and then I moved to South Carolina.

It was essential to me that if I was going to get a service dog, I wanted to make sure it was a viable service dog from an organization that had experience working with service animals, and for me, I started to notice that doing the typical everyday things like getting dressed putting my coat on, trying to pick things up from the floor, trying to transfer from my wheelchair to other surfaces (like chairs, bathrooms, etcetera) and really thinking about where I was expending energy. I was expanding energy. It would take me two hours; I would go to work two hours early to take off my coat and that was not energy I needed to expand. If you know me, I’m a very active person, I like to be in the community, I like to work, I like to volunteer and in order to do that, I knew I needed something that would provide me assistance to do that but I wanted it to be in such a way that I wasn’t having to be reliant on people but still in a way that demonstrated to others that all of us can use different accommodations to achieve the goals that we want to.

B: And, Emily, how is that similar or different to what you went through?

E: Yeah, so it’s a little different. So with emotional support animals, they do not have to be professionally trained, they don’t have the same public access as service animals. So, like I said, I can’t take Tucker into public with me but um I did do a lot of research and I did get him trained partially before he started acting as my emotional support animal yeah.

B: Do you feel like it’s kind of safe to say that people look at emotional support animals in a more negative light, than conventional “service animals?”

E: Oh yeah, I most definitely… I think it has to do with people faking their emotional support animals and using the law to get the pet fee waved or to fly with their animal, or things like that. Whereas, I know for me, if I were to try to fly with Tucker that would honestly probably be more stressful than helpful for me, so I would never even think about taking Tucker on a plane with me. The only part of the law really that I take use of is that he’s allowed to live with me and I don’t have to pay a pet fee, because he’s not technically a pet, he is an emotional support animal.

B: And that’s under the Fair Housing Act right?

E: Yes.

B: Okay, okay, well, Dori have you ever encountered somebody that that’s tried to have a fake service animal or try to tell you that Jack isn’t doi-, isn’t a real service animal?

D: I have on several occasions, I can give a couple of examples. One, I was at our local home improvement store and I was shopping and all of a sudden, I was in the line paying for my goods and I hear barking and… the manager comes running out, and he’s like, “Why is your dog barking?” And everyone else in the line said, “It isn’t her dog, it’s the lady with the dog in her purse.” And when the manager said to her, so your dog a service animal, she kind of chuckled and said, “Yes, he is,” and then she looked at me to see if I was going to review her answer. Which under-law cannot because technically, if they ask you that question and you decide to respond that way, that is your choice. The only other thing they could have done in that situation was to ask her, Would tasks the service animal performs for her.

And other situations, I’ve been on the other end of the spectrum where I was out trying to get access into locations in downtown Columbia, whether it was a federal agency, or a restaurant or local business, and I’ve had people say to me, “Well are you sure that’s a service animal? Are you sure he’s allowed in here? We serve food, we do such and such business. You can’t bring him in here”.

And I think what people don’t know, are all the dynamics of service animals and emotional support animals and when you don’t understand all of that, that can produce a lot of confusion. Yeah, I don’t think just confusion for the public. I think it produces a lot of confusion for individuals with disabilities who don’t know which law fits which type of service animal in what situation. And so there are really generally a lot of times people don’t know that they’re misrepresenting their service animal. An example, some people refer to their service animals as therapy dogs because they feel they give them some therapeutic elements of emotional support or physical assistance, like they have physical therapy, and I’ve met with people, with legitimate service animals just refer to their animals as in the wrong way and they’ve been denied to access too and the laws are so intricate, now, but unless you really know your rights, it can be complex. And so I like to look at it from the perspective that hopefully with more education, we get better with that.

Hopefully, maybe down the line, we have some more guidelines for how to oversee service animals and emotional support animals but you could even go state-to-state and even with the ADA some states have different your regulations as well. So I can see, for the typical person that would be very confusing whether you’re a professional, or a person utilizing these animals.

B:  Something that we’ve seen start to happen a lot in the past couple of years is that more and more states are adding additional legislation to crack down on the concept of people faking service animals. What do you think of that as a pandemic? Do you think that there’s too many people abusing service animals? Do you think that that the number of people that are faking is outweighing the number of people that actually have or need the support of one?

D:And see I have concern, why we have a federal piece of legislation and most of the time it isn’t implemented. If it was implemented in the way it was intended, speaking of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we wouldn’t have some of these concerns, but people aren’t implementing it and utilizing it correctly, those in enforcement jobs.

The second part of this is: legislation sounds great on paper. The difficulty with legislation is individuals are just that, people with different needs, people with different abilities, people with different ways of communicating.

And as I said earlier, sometimes people use the wrong wording to talk about their animal. Sometimes people, in stressful situations, can’t communicate that it is indeed an animal and what it does for you-, a service animal or emotional support animal, and what it does for you. And the problem with that then becomes that you as the owner who may have a legitimate service or emotional support animal can’t explain what that dog does for you not because you don’t want to but because the way your disability impacts you, and therefore, in some states you’re being charged with a misdemeanor crime which entails money, it entails a misdemeanor crime being put attached to your name and you will take years and years and years and money to get that off your record.

B: So even, it’s even more barriers on top of a person who had already was already experiencing barriers. Exactly, so… And they’re already recognizing, in Georgia, Colorado and a couple of other states where it’s ended up hurting the individuals it was intended to help. So really thinking about that, thinking of all aspects before we just institute a law that may not actually benefit those that was intended to serve.

B: So I noticed, I wanna speak to the elephant in the room. And by that I mean dogs… So we’re talking about about service animals, but both of the examples that we’ve got here are both dogs we really don’t see service animals for physical or visual disabilities outside of dogs and mini horses, due to an interesting asterisk in that law, but on the emotional support animal spectrum you see a lot more diversity in that, which I think kind of lends to that public perception of maybe what is a chicken gonna do for you, that a dog doesn’t do. Emily, do you have any thoughts on that?

E: When I was looking at emotional support animals and deciding which kind I should get, I really went with dog just because, you know, they’re Man’s Best Friend and everyone loves dogs and that seemed like the best fit for me. But all animals can provide support. I do think that different animals may be taken less seriously but not because they’re not providing that emotional support, but that people just don’t understand how that support could be provided.

B: So it sounds like it’s a lot of just public perception being being worked. What are some things that we can do to help educate the public or show the importance in the legitimacy of emotional support animals.

E: I think people being more open about them I think because of public perception of people with emotional support animals and people that think that we are faking it or just using it to fly for free have their animal fly for free or not have to pay housing fee. I think that people misunderstand, but if more people were open about their animals in general and how they do actually help them, then I think that other people might start to see that it doesn’t just have to be dogs.

B: Have any specific skills or actions that he takes when you’re feeling a particular anxiety or any kind of symptoms that he can pick up on.

E: Yeah, so, Tucker has, been trained in a couple of different ways. One way is that he alerts me to my anxiety either by coming over and nudging me or jumping up on my leg if I’m standing, and then because he’s also, he’s pretty small as all of 20 pounds. Then the other tasks that he’s been trained to do is called pressure and so that’s when he comes over and if I’m sitting he’ll lay on my lap. And, if I’m laying down, he’ll lay on my stomach or my chest and both of those, he knows how to do it on command but he’ll also do it if he picks up on me becoming particularly anxious or if I’m crying or if I’m just super depressed. He’s really good at picking up on those kind of things, and then of course he does just provide general emotional support in that. I’m really happy when I’m around him and he brings me a lot of joy.

B: So in a real sense, there are certain tasks that he’s been trained to do that directly benefit your disability, right?

E: Yes, but that is also kind of unique to my situation, and emotional support animals don’t have to be trained in specific tasks to help. I just decided that I did need help and the supports at home but I didn’t need a full-blown service animal to take out with me in public, because generally I was around other people in public that could help me fulfill my needs, that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

B: And, Dori, I’m seen some of the things that Jack’s done for you and I know you mentioned earlier, some of the things that you felt like you needed to help with that Shack can give you some additional independence for… So, what are the ways that shack helps you that you feel like a person couldn’t? In what ways does having a service animal beat out having a PCA?

D: I think being a person who wants to be as independent as possible… people have their merits in a lot of different areas. But to be honest, I think having a service animal, empowers you, it allows you not to be dependent on somebody who may or may not have other responsibilities that they have to take care of. Also being a person who uses a PCA as well, they’re different dynamics to it. Having a PCA who had to pick up my cellphone the 10 times that I drop it usually during a day, having a PCA who had to help me transfer every second of the day when I want a transfer at home from my bed or from the wheelchair to the bathroom toilet to the wheelchair to a chair or sofa, my service dog can take notes back and forth or remote control of things for me and my husband.

There’s a lot of essentialness that people forget. People think people are the answer. Not in all cases. Sometimes elements of people are more enabling than animals than empower you. I think it really is dependent on this person. I don’t think a service animal or an emotional support animal is right for everybody.

I think you have to have certain dynamics and responsibilities, and I think the animal has to be wanting to be in that job. It isn’t something you just take an animal and put it in because that’s what you want. They have to have the desire to wanna work for you in either role whether it’s a certain more emotional support animal, and that is not every animal, so you have to look at it from that aspect, as well. It is much less money too to have a service animal, then a PCA to have a PCA also in South Carolina and other states, you have to meet certain qualifications for Medicaid, Medicare, and other entities from which you receive these services. And so, I really think when you look at the global perspective, of why do you choose a service animal or an emotional support animal, it’s very individualized. What’s gonna be right for one person is not gonna be right for the other, and whether I choose I want an individual to assist me or whether I choose I wanna service animal to assist me is also individual wants and needs based as well.  I don’t think one is any better than the other to say that to someone personally, that’s for me, one is a better choice, but for somebody else, just like the independent living philosophy says, it’s really the choice of you works best for you.

B: Well then, just for my own personal amusement and possibly the amusement of our listeners, tell me and be as detailed or as un-detailed as you like what it was like the moment you met Shack.

D: Oh, that’s a big story. When I first met Shack, when you go through a service dog organization, and I can only speak from this reference, I got a check from Palmetto Animal-Assisted Life Services, which is also called PAALS, out of Columbia, South Catalina. They go through an extensive process where you meet with a lot of different dogs, over the course of a year, they are accepted and they look at the different dogs and how they interact with you. You get to have input. They also have a client committee that gives input. You are interviewed in your home, you are also evaluated by your medical doctor and they give input too, and then when you go through that, you weigh out the pros and cons. So you’re asked your opinion but they also have a training team that looks at that too. Well, the first time I met Shack, he ran up to me, he jumped on my foot rest on my wheelchair turned his body around. And he did a pose like we were on the catwalk. He just sat there and he wanted to go along. In it, did pose. We want the car, and I was rolling my wheelchair anybody to just sit there and go, I love. And it was very interesting because none of the other dogs at that time, really had any interest in being around a wheelchair and you could tell by their physical demeanor and they were a little hesitant. But he was like, “I’m down for this, let’s go! And for those who know me, know I have a lot of energy. Well, when people tell me he’s the canine form of you, I guess that says it all!

B: And Emily, what was it like the moment you met Tucker?

E: The moment I met Tucker wasn’t as entertaining as the moment Dori met Shack, but when I took him home, we got him from a breeder out in Georgia and when I took him home, I felt at peace and I felt like I made the right decision. There was a lot of testing that went into picking the right dog, it was down between two puppies and just something about Tucker’s. demeanor just seemed perfect for me and I took him home, and he was still this little fuzz ball, and I set him in the grass and all he wanted to do was follow me around, and be right next to me and that really was… I mean… he has become my best friend and I knew that that day that he would be my best friend and that even if I don’t wanna give him all of my attention because I’m feeling like particularly depressed or anxious, all he wants to do is make me happy and be right by me and I don’t have to be giving him direct attention and he’s still just chilling right by me and he has my back. So yeah, I’d say “peaceful” describes the moment I met him.

B: That’s awesome. I struggle, to think of what more you can want from an animal.

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