International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners


Editor's Note: The newspaper article below, titled "Dogs Give Peace of Mind to Crime Victims" sent shock waves through the assistance dog community on the internet where this article has received widespread circulation via email lists. A response to this "new movement" by IAADP will follow. An article in Dog Fancy magazine favorable to this new movement was brought to our attention just as we went to press. We will respond with a Letter to the Editor. Please let us know if you come across additional media coverage so IAADP can respond.

Dogs Give Peace of Mind to Crime Victims....

By Dong-Phuong Nguyen


Union-Tribune, San Deigo

17-Sep-2000 Sunday

Service Dogs for Victims of Assault

Amy Weigel knows what it's like to live in fear -- afraid to walk down the short driveway to her car, to mingle in a crowd, to jog around the block. After she was sexually assaulted by a stranger five years ago, her life changed.

"It takes a little bit out of everything you do," said Weigel, a 24-year-old liberal studies student at San Diego State University. "School was really hard. It was hard being around large crowds, going out to eat...... little things people take for granted." But Weigel got a big part of her life back earlier this year when she was introduced to a dog named Fedor.

The 2-year-old German shepherd accompanies Weigel everywhere -- airplanes, to school, to the grocery store -- so he can watch everyone she encounters. And when someone who might be a threat approaches Weigel, Fedor positions his 103-pound body in front of her so he can confront the stranger with growls, barks and unmistakable menace.

It's his job.

Fedor is at Weigel's side as part of a new San Diego program that matches victims of crimes with large dogs trained to protect them and help them regain a sense of security. The animals are considered service dogs, so they accompany their handlers everywhere, just like canines that assist the blind and people with other disabilities. Service Dogs for Victims of Assault is pioneering the effort in the United States, and it has sent dogs to three other states that want to offer the same service.

"I was in pretty bad shape," Weigel said in describing her life before Fedor (pronounced Fay-door). But now, with the large dog by her side, things are different.

"Life has changed all for the better," she said. "(Fedor) gives me a sense of self-confidence that I thought was gone, and safety and peace of mind to just be in crowds of people and know that I'm going to be OK."

The idea that dogs could assist crime victims was developed by Sherri Goldstein, a licensed and certified hypnotherapist in North Park whose patients deal with such issues as agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems.

A few years ago, Goldstein had finished going through relaxation techniques with a rape victim when the woman leaned down to hug one of the three German shepherds that lounge around Goldstein's office. Goldstein, who has trained German shepherds and who has done canine rescue work for more than 15 years, considers herself somewhat of an expert on the breed.

Through tears, the patient told Goldstein that the only place she felt safe was when she was at Goldstein's office, with the dogs.

"A light bulb went on," Goldstein said. "My sense of security is largely enhanced by traveling with a large pack of dogs, and they're German shepherds at that. I realized my clients could also enjoy that sense of security if they were to have a companion animal with them."

So Goldstein started researching the subject and learned that the American with Disabilities Act covered hidden disabilities, like those her patients suffered from.

At the end of 1999, after $3,000 in legal fees and hundreds of hours of research, Service Dogs for Victims of Assault was created. In less than a year, the group has helped 15 women and two men in the San Diego area and has sent dogs to Nevada, Oregon and New Hampshire.

The 17 people who have the service dogs were referred to the organization by law enforcement, the District Attorney's Office, psychiatrists and social workers. The people have been diagnosed as suffering from psychological effects of crimes such as assault, stalking and rape.

William Stothers, deputy director for the Center for an Accessible Society in San Diego, said programs that carry out the goals of the ADA are of great help.

"Where animals are able to be very, very helpful to people and enable people with impairments to lead fuller and more independent lives, that is very valuable," he said.

Legally, people with disabilities do not have to identify why they have the dog. Goldstein instructs her clients to say the dogs provide handicap assistance. "By having to detail their reasons just reactivates the trauma," she added.

However, not just anyone is given a service dog.

The organization does not provide dogs in spousal abuse situations or if a person's psychiatric disorder is too extreme to entrust him or her with a dog.

A victim's advocate referred Weigel to the program in March, after she

discovered her house had been burglarized.

Weigel, of Chula Vista, came home just as the burglars left. Two13-year-old boys were later arrested and convicted of the crime. But it left Weigel, who had gone through therapy because of the sexual assault years earlier, feeling even more vulnerable. She was soon introduced to Service Dogs for Victims of Assault and given Fedor. As part of the boys' punishment, the court ordered them to pay $700 to Weigel to cover the cost of acquiring and training Fedor. Other victims receive financial assistance through the program's donors.

Fedor has become a constant companion to Weigel in the seven months they have been together, even accompanying her to classes at SDSU.

During an hourlong lecture on geology recently, Fedor sat at Weigel's feet, his head on the floor, but eyes alert. He wore a blue vest instructing people not to pet him and a badge identifying him as a service dog. Weigel poured him bottled water.

Fedor is constantly aware of his surroundings, although he rolls over for the occasional belly rub.

"He's still in training," Weigel said as she affectionately ran her fingers over his belly during a break between classes.

While she sat, Fedor lay at her feet, sometimes with his muzzle flat on the ground. As students scuttled to class, their feet hit inches from Fedor's nose. He did not flinch. He is trained to not be alarmed by noise and bustle around him. But at the sign of a threat, Fedor snaps into action. Weigel and Fedor are training together so Fedor will respond to voice commands.

Fedor's protective nature is common among his breed, but more specialized training is needed in order for him to become a service dog.

The pair train together once a week, with more lessons ahead. There are seven trainers in San Diego county who teach the dogs for free or at a discount.

One of the first people to assist the organization by volunteering her time to train the dogs and create a model for other trainers is Brigitte Shaw, owner of CBS Dog Training based in Alpine.

Shaw, who has trained dogs for about 18 years, said that depending on the dog's temperament, it can take four weeks to four months to train a dog for the program.

"There is no bite work involved," she said. "The only things we basically want the dog to do is bark but not to bite. You have to turn the dog on and turn the dog off on command."

Some of the best breeds for the job are the German shepherds, Doberman Pinchers, Giant Schnauzers, Bouviers, Airedales and Rottweilers. All of the dogs in the program are rescued from shelters. The cost for medical checkups, treatment and training can run the group about $800 a dog.

Once trained, a canine goes to a sort of halfway house where it waits to be assigned to a handler, someone the dog will live with permanently.

When Weigel first got Fedor, her husband left for work one morning and turned right back because he had forgotten something. Weigel was still in bed when he walked through the front door and was stopped by Fedor at the doorway. The dog barked and growled and refused to let him pass until Weigel called him off. Now that Fedor has been in the family for seven months, he's protective of Weigel and her entire family.

"He's always my first line of defense," she said.

Weigel's experience with Fedor is common.

One handler e-mailed Goldstein a letter of thanks for her dog and told of her new companion's protective nature. They went into a store with "larger than life-sized" statues of goblins and wizards up on pedestals. The figures were posed in threatening positions, arms raised and crouched over.

"(The dog) did not like that," the woman wrote. "She kept stepping in front of me and alerting each time we came near one. That made me feel safe."

The dogs in the program have given their handlers exactly what Goldstein has hoped for -- greater normalcy and a greater life experience.

And Fedor may be a working dog, but at home he gets spoiled as much as Weigel's other dog, a "training-challenged" Australian shepherd named Ginger. "Fedor is part of the family," Weigel said. "When he comes home, he gets to be a dog, basically."

When they are no longer needed for their intended purpose, Goldstein said, "the dog may be able to stay home as a beloved pet and eat bon bons."

For more information about acquiring a dog, or to make a donation, call Sherri Goldstein at (619) 280-2833 or write to Service Dogs for Victims of Assault, 2316 32nd St., San Diego 92104

IAADP Response On Protection Training Issue

The Board of Directors of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners takes strong exception a claim which is being advanced in certain newspaper and magazine articles that protection trained or guard dogs can be legally classified service animals if the dogs' owners have a disability. IAADP's Board has developed the following response to the preceding newspaper article about Service Dogs for Victims of Assault.

Disabled Americans have been engaged in a civil rights struggle for the right to be accompanied by their guide, hearing and service dogs for more than 70 years. Generations of guide dog handlers committed themselves to winning the public's trust and admiration for their canine assistants. Their dedication to proving guide dogs were well behaved, safe and trustworthy in public settings successfully paved the way for people with other disabilities in the United States to have the legal right to be accompanied by their assistance dogs in all public places.

IAADP recognizes public fear of dogs remains a significant obstacle to our goal of societal acceptance. As we continue the struggle to overcome resistance to full inclusion in society both here and abroad, we believe it is more important than ever for the conduct of an assistance dog to be above reproach.

Recently there has been publicity about a new program with the goal of promoting a national movement for a new kind of service dog.. As reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune on Sept. 17, 2000, the program, Service Dogs For Victims of Assault, selects guard dog breeds such as Dobermans, German Shepherds and Rottweilers to be trained by protection dog trainers to put on a frightening display of aggressive behavior in public whenever the dog thinks that an approaching member of the public might be a threat. (e.g. "At the first sign of a threat, the dog snaps into action......the dog positions his 103 pound body in front of the handler to confront the stranger with barks, growls and unmistakable menace.") The claim is being made by Service Dogs for Victims of Assault that this show of aggressive behavior in places of public accommodation is fully sanctioned by the Americans With Disabilities Act. According to the program, the handler is entitled to bring the dog everywhere a guide dog can go. It is claimed the dog's aggressive behavior toward anyone perceived to be a threat makes the dog's owner feel less afraid to go out in public and thus it is mitigating a fear related disability.

The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners absolutely rejects the claim by this provider and any like-minded provider that dogs trained to display aggressive behavior in public can be labeled a service animal as defined by the regulations developed under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

To quote from the official interpretative guidance on ADA issued by the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice and National Association of [state] Attorneys General on July 26, 1996, titled COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT SERVICE ANIMALS IN PLACES OF BUSINESS: ( page 3, Question 10 )

Question: What if a service animal barks or growls at other people, or otherwise acts out of control?

Answer: You may exclude any animal, including a service animal, from your facility when that animal's behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. For example, any service animal that displays vicious behavior toward other guests or customers may be excluded.

Consultation with the Department of Justice on the meaning of the phrase "minimal protection and rescue work" included in the original regulatory language affirms this phrase has no relationship to what is referred to in dog training circles as protection training. Minimal protection was included so people with serious medical problems other than a visual, hearing or mobility impairment could have a service dog trained to protect them from injury by performing a benign task such as seizure alerting and/or function in a rescue capacity by seeking help during a medical emergency.

Interpretative guidance on the Air Carriers Access Act published in the federal register in Nov. 1996 by the Department of Transportation titled: GUIDANCE CONCERNING SERVICE ANIMALS IN AIR TRANSPORTATION, (Question Eleven) explains that airlines have the right to exclude a dog which displays aggressive behavior even if it performs an assistive function for the passenger. Such disruptive behavior demonstrates the dog was not properly trained to function as a service animal in a public setting and therefore the airline is not obliged to treat it as a service animal.

We believe there is no basis for the claim posed by Service Dogs for Victims of Assault that dogs which are protection trained to display aggressive behavior in public settings are entitled to the same legal status as guide, hearing and service dogs. Aggressive behavior has been singled out by government regulatory agencies as just cause for excluding the dog from the premises. Thus training a dog to perform a behavior which will exclude it from having access to public accommodations undermines any notion of its being an assistance dog.

IAADP is deeply concerned the national publicity campaign launched by Service Dogs for Victims of Assault and its supporters will have negative consequences for the entire assistance dog movement. News of such teams is likely to alienate the business community and gravely undermine the public's support for laws granting access rights to disabled people. Furthermore, national publicity about protection trained [ attack trained ] dogs wearing identification as service dogs for the disabled could imperil the lives of assistance dog partners whose service dogs are schooled to bark for help in a medical emergency. Paramedics and members of the public may be unwilling to approach such teams in the future. This issue is not only of local or national concern.

Since IAADP's inception in 1993, we have had a close working relationship with Assistance Dogs International. This international organization of non profit assistance dog training programs has established a code of Standards and Ethics and accreditation standards for programs training guide, hearing and service dogs. In their code of Standards and Ethics for member programs, under the section on the ethical treatment of assistance dogs, ADI states:

"An ADI member program will not train, place or certify dogs with any aggressive behavior. Ethical use of an assistance dog prohibits training an assistance dog in a way that stimulates his prey instinct for guard or protection duty. Non aggressive barking as a trained behavior will be acceptable in appropriate situations."

On the international front, the training of assistance dogs to put on displays of aggressive behavior in public could also have negative consequences. IAADP and other organizations in the assistance dog field have been working toward the elimination of quarantine barriers to free travel with assistance dogs. Thus far, the discussion has focused on rabies and other potential animal borne diseases. If it is believed that American assistance dogs are now being attack trained by protection dog trainers, quarantine barriers may be maintained on the behavioral rather than disease potential.

Based on the considerations noted above, IAADP joins with many others in decrying any move toward incorporating protection or attack training as a legitimate part of the preparation or work of an assistance dog.

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