International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners
DOG FANCY MAGAZINE
LETTER TO THE EDITOR Column
Mission Viejo, CA 92690.
Jan. 20, 2001
For more than seventy years, the disabled community has been working hard to educate the public about what our guide, hearing and service dogs do for us. This educational effort has also focused on establishing the belief that our working dogs are safe and trustworthy in public settings. As proof this message has gotten across, many dog loving people feel comfortable approaching us and our dogs. We've won the confidence of paramedics, clerks and many Good Samaritans. We dread the thought of all this changing.
This wonderful acceptance of assistance dogs in public places is now being threatened by the San Diego-based Service Dogs for Victims of Assault (SDVA) [ Dog Fancy, Nov. 2000 issue ] SDVA's program recruits German Shepherd Dogs, Doberman Pinchers and breeds like Rottweilers with high prey drive from animal shelters, and, after a short period of obedience and protection training, places the dog with an applicant. The dogs are trained to respond violently at the slightest sign of a threat. Their ferocious display of barking, growling and lunging will make a former crime victim feel safe, according to SDVA.
We are also concerned that the program's name will lead the public to think anyone who is a victim of assault is automatically disabled. This is a grave disservice to victims, most of whom do not develop a serious psychiatric disorder. Under ADA, only someone who has a long term physical or mental condition which severely impairs one or more major life functions, such as the ability to breathe, see, hear, walk, learn or work qualifies as disabled enough to be eligible for access rights.
SDVA incorrectly assumes the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives victims of assault the right to use Protection dogs as service animals. Just the opposite is true. Federal guidelines explicitly empower the public and private sector to exclude any team if a dog demonstrates aggressive behavior, such as growling or acting in menacing way. Thus the trained behavior of the SDVA dog actually disqualifies that animal from public access rights. Congress never intended a service animal to be a concealed weapon or to intimidate members of the public with frightening displays of aggression.
Protection dogs do not have access rights. Dressing such dogs up in authentic looking gear and taking these animals into places where only an assistance dog is legally permitted to go is reprehensible. Every aggressive outburst will be blamed on our community of assistance dog partners, undermining and ultimately destroying the progress our civil rights movement has made. Those of us partnered with true assistance dogs believe this to be a serious abuse of ADA..
As we continue our civil rights battle for access in the workplace, hospitals and overseas, we believe it is more important than ever for the conduct of an assistance dog to always be completely non-aggressive. Appalled by the widespread publicity SDVA has received and its threat to the future of the assistance dog movement, the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, a cross-disability consumer advocacy organization with more than 1,000 members partnered with guide, hearing and service dogs, cannot remain silent.
Ms. Joan Froling
IAADP Board of Directors
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