There is a front page story today in the New York Times about emotional support dogs on planes, and how many people seem to be gaming the system. It is obviously a very touchy subject for dog lovers. But one that needs serious addressing. Should rules regarding emotional support dogs (different from assistance/service dogs for blind or physically disabled people) be re-examined? This article dealt specifically with plane travel, which allows emotional support animals to fly free. Those animals (not just dogs) are not restricted to a crate and are even allowed to sit on their guardian’s lap, unlike other animals who must fit under-the-seat in a carrier, and for which a fee is charged on most airlines.
Robert Farr of the Pacific A.D.A. Center explained that, “The Air Carrier Access Act allowed for emotional support animals to be taken on planes, broadening the American Disabilities Act, which recognized service animals in public places.” Little (or no) proof of their status is required. And as the article points out, there seem to be many who are flaunting the guidelines.
Is this a problem? According to Marcie Davis, founder of International Assistance Dog Week, it is becoming a big one.
“I’ve seen people bring on pets and try to pass them off as an emotional support or service dog. It’s not appropriate and it’s not safe.”
Ms. Davis, who uses a wheelchair, flies about once a month, along with a service dog, for her job as a health and human services consultant.
She goes on to note:
“Honestly, I understand that there’s some value that people need an emotional assistance dog. But I think a lot of this is that people love their dogs and think they feel like if you have your dog, why can’t I have mine?” Airline workers echo Ms. Davis’s view. “It’s out of control,” said an American Airlines flight attendant, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly.
Not only are there psychotherapists who provide the necessary “prescriptive” paperwork, but online stores that sell service dog vests to anyone. Like one in Southern California who the Times spoke with who is willing to offer certification papers for a one-hour $99 phone/Skype call.
I know a few people without legitimate issues who do this as well, like a couple with two 70 lb. dogs who wear such vests. Their dogs are extremely well trained but, to me, that isn’t the issue. They simply prefer that their dogs fly in the cabin with them and not in the cargo, an understandable sentiment, but one that doesn’t give consideration to other passengers, including those with service animals or those with animal allergies.
The comments to this article are interesting, especially when addressing the needs of those with severe allergies. Unfortunately their rightful concerns could also impact other guide/service animals—with stale cabin air being recycled, it is hard not to take into consideration the pet dander allergy issue. One commenter suggested that those with severe allergies should also be accorded “ADA” status, warranting special consideration too.
But there is also the fact that airlines are charging more and more for things that use to be standard for the cost of a plane tickets, baggage, roomier seating, snacks etc., so it was suggested that if they started to charge for emotional support dogs (like they do with “carry-on” dogs), perhaps they would see a reversal in the popularity of misusing the system. Or as another commenter noted,
“When airlines are able to provide a more humane way for our pets to travel on an airplane, i.e. a secured heated in winter/air conditioned in summer section in the cargo area, where the crates are also secured and not dumped in with luggage, etc., when airlines stop asking vets to sign waivers that say if your pet comes out the other end of the flight like a frozen Popsicle or overheated Pizza Pocket and not breathing, when pets do not escape due to negligence on the part of the airline employees, who are not specifically trained to handle animals, are trained properly to do so and in fact have dedicated jobs for only this function, than I would love to be able to relinquish my beloved dog to the airline and get on the plane! with some level of peace of mind.”
Are there really that many people who are abusing the system who, in turn, are making it more difficult for others to bring their service dogs with them? Perhaps an example of how this might be affecting the attitude of crewmembers too comes from a story reported yesterday in the New York Post about a blind man, Albert Rizzi and his guide dog Doxy, who were booted off a US Airways plane by TSA guards. As the story goes:
“The 9-year-old Lab was under his seat, Rizzi said, but the loving pooch got restless as the plane sat for 90 minutes on the runway before the scheduled hour-long flight at 8:30 p.m.
“My dog had been under the seat for an hour and a half, and he needed to be near me, touch me,” Rizzi told The Post. “This is the relationship between a guide dog and his handler.”
But there is great twist to this story when other passengers voiced their support to Rizzi.
“After he [Rizzi] was removed, people on board began to voice their opinion,” said passenger Carl Beiner, a 43-year-old construction manager. “Everyone was saying, ‘You’re 100-percent wrong.’ There was not a single person backing the stewardess. Every single person on that flight was behind the blind guy.”
“When we, the passengers, realized what was going on, we were, like, ‘Why is this happening? He’s not a problem. What is going on?’ ” Passenger Frank Ohlhorst told Philadelphia TV stations. “The captain came out of the cockpit, and he basically asked us all to leave the aircraft.”
Obviously, one hopes that is an extreme example on how easy it is to fray nerves while sitting in a plane for hours on a runway, and one that the management of US Airways agrees was a severe overreaction by the crew.
As for the broader issue of support dogs being accorded the same status as guide dogs, and how this leads to misusing the system, is this perhaps an example of a good idea gone bad? Is it time to reexamine the certification process? Is more accountability in order? We would love to get your thoughts.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Service dog organizations face challenges fundraising in a sea of nonprofits
Seeing eye dogs give people freedom and confidence, all while amazing us with their dedication and abilities. It would seem to be an easy case for fundraising, but the cost for raising these dogs is expensive and coming up with the money to run these programs has become more and more challenging.
Even with dedicated volunteers, a guide dog can cost approximately $45,000 to $60,000 for the two years of care and extensive training. Service dog organizations must compete against other nonprofits, which each have their own compelling mission. The Urban Institute estimates that 1.6 million such groups operate in America today, a 25 percent increase in the last decade.
Many people choose to give their money elsewhere citing the high failure rate (which organizations are addressing by training dogs that don't pass the test to work as PTSD or police pups) and the fact that guide dogs can only work for eight to 10 years before they retire. That means a blind person could need six to seven dogs in their lifetime. Also, while no one will argue the impact of these pups, the guide dog organizations help hundreds of people each year while other organizations, like initiatives to feed the homeless, have the ability to touch thousands or even millions.
Donor profiles are also changing, forcing organizations to change their fundraising strategies. The Seeing Eye, a guide dog organization based out of New Jersey, currently receives three-quarters of its support from bequests and estate gifts, two areas that are decreasing as younger donors seek to give while they are living.
The Seeing Eye and Guide Dogs for the Blind in California are lucky to currently have large endowments, but most other service dog organizations rely on individual donors and fundraising events like walk-a-thons and dinners.
Still, despite the barriers, giving to a guide dog foundation may reflect a person's interests and passions. And each dollar donated means the world to the people who are enjoying newfound independence thanks to their service pups.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
An autistic boy has been without his pup for over a week
Update: Echo was returned home safely on Friday, 11/15, read more here.
A very special dog is missing in my neck of the woods. Echo, a Black Labrador, has been gone from her Rye, N.Y. home since last Wednesday, leaving 5-year old Mark Fontana without his service dog.
Two years ago Mark was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and as a result, does not speak. He is prone to running away from home or darting into the street or pools, although he can't swim.
Echo was donated to the Fontana family by Guiding Eyes for the Blind and has been invaluable for keeping Mark safe. The 5-year old Lab is trained to automatically brace Mark when he tries to run.
Echo is between 50 and 55 pounds and is wearing a red collar with tags. There was a possible sighting yesterday in New Rochelle, N.Y. Officials ask that anyone who finds Echo bring her to a vet or animal shelter where they can read her microchip and get in contact with the Fontanta family.
Follow the search for Echo on the Guiding Eyes for the Blind web site. They also have fliers that you can print and post if you live in Westchester County. Hopefully Echo and Mark will be reunited soon!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Weekly journey is uplifting
The dogs that Shannon Johnstone takes on walks are experiencing a freedom that they haven’t known in a long time, if ever. Each week, she brings one dog with her to a park that was built on top of an old landfill and observes the dog enjoying a rare moment of happiness. She photographs them on their walk and once they reach the top, which is about 500 feet up and one of the highest places in the area.
Johnstone is an art professor and professional photographer who has been photographing dogs, many of them Pit Bulls, from the Wake County Animal Center for over a year. These dogs have been living in the shelter, and some have been there over a year. A lot of the dogs she has photographed have been adopted. Some are still waiting for a family to choose them. A few have been euthanized.
The old trash pile turned landfill where they walk reminds Johnstone that people have treated these dogs as disposable and tossed them away just like we pitch trash. She emphasizes that these are good dogs, but that they’re just unlucky. Her experience, perspective and photographs reveal that well-known truth: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
I've always been fascinated by watching dog friends together. They play, they cuddle, even lick each other. Many dogs are very bonded with their fellow canine housemates but its funny how sometimes dogs have a special friend who doesn't live with them. I love to see how dogs will find a friend at a dog park or other social gathering and pair up, just as people connect with certain other people. Once they've connected, when they see that dog again, they rush toward each other joyously and spend all their time together until they must part.
My own dogs enjoy each other very much although any of them will gladly ditch the others for a day out with me. They do sometimes find another dog who fascinates them for whatever reason. I once had a large spayed female Borzoi who was rather reserved with most new dogs but small intact male dogs were her thing. Let some little un-neutered Chihuahua come along and she was head over heels, acting flirtations and comically silly. My current dogs love to meet and greet other dogs at the off-leash beach. Occasionally one of them really hits it off with another dog for no rhyme or reason but it's always fun to watch.
I recently had the joy of watching two young dogs meet each other for the first time and make that instant connection. One dog was Lily, a one year old, Pointer/Lab mix who I had fostered since birth and who was adopted but back for a short visit with me. The other was Spur, a friend's five month old Cattledog pup. They were in a group of other dogs of all ages and sizes but the two youngsters bonded immediately. My friend and I must have sat for a good hour watching them wrestle, run together and thoroughly enjoy themselves. They paid very little attention to the other dogs and spent the entire time in close physical contact. I don't think they ever got more than a few feet apart and their play was spontaneous and joyful. There was no posturing for dominance, no competition or concern for who was in charge, just dogs having fun with each other. It was a delight to witness.
Does your dog have a special canine friend?
Kudos to Trupanion, the pet insurance company based in Seattle, Washington, for walking the talk and offering employees’ dogs free health insurance as a benefit. Each day, the company welcomes a menagerie of dogs, cats and even a few birds to their office headquarters. Among the perks offered to employees who bring their dogs to work are dog walking services (trips to the park are extra) and pet bereavement time off. With over 60 dogs in their workplace, the company realized that they didn’t have an adequate fire and evacuation plan in place that included companion animals. In response, staff volunteers organized a safety evacuation plan. Watch their drill in honor of Pet Fire Safety Day.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs with extreme social enthusiasm
It’s almost a cliché—Golden Retrievers who are so friendly, so eager to greet people that they seem in danger of wagging their entire back ends off. Such behavior is by no means confined to this breed, and it’s not exhibited by all Goldens, though it is undeniable that some of them do typify it.
I recently met a Golden Retriever who was as lovable and friendly as any I’ve known. It was fascinating to watch him control himself because although he could do it well, it was obvious that it took a lot of effort. He is a well-trained dog who behaved beautifully, but without that high level of training and lots of practice with self-control, it probably would have been a very different social experience for the both of us.
I suspect that if he had not received the training to back away, to sit and lie down on cue, and to settle and stay, he would have looked like a cartoon dog—leaping high in the air with all four paws extended and a cartoon bubble over his head with the word “Wheeeeeeeee!” in it. As it was, he was wagging his whole body so hard I really did wonder if he had ever hurt himself doing so, and he was looking at his guardian repeatedly as though asking permission to launch himself at me. Despite the restraint he showed, there was something in his expression that made me feel as though he was bursting with desire to leap into my arms or on my lap. It’s to his credit and that of his guardian that he did not do so.
Dogs with extreme social exuberance and their guardians have been criticized. Of course, that’s only when the enthusiasm leads to behavior such as knocking over small children (or even adults) and it is excused with the remark, “He’s just so friendly!”
I love a friendly dog and I don’t consider any dogs TOO friendly. However, I have met dogs with an excess of enthusiasm who would benefit from some training in basic manners. If dogs are prone to boundless social fervor, they need to be taught self-control and to perform acceptable behaviors during greetings rather than being allowed to plow into or over people.
Do you have a dog who is socially enthusiastic?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
How to help without adopting
In celebration of National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week, I just found out that the Karen Pryor Clicker Training store is offering free shipping to any domestic shelter with the code SHELTERTHANKS. What a cool and easy way to send much needed supplies to animals in need!
The Clicker Training store's promotion got me thinking about other ways to help homeless animals this week.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Training pups to protect children
Imagine going to school, a place that's supposed to be safe, only to be welcomed by a metal detector and security guards. That's unfortunately the reality at many schools these days, including the elementary school that I attended as a kid.
I strongly believe that violence breeds more violence, so I've always thought there must be a better way to prevent gun tragedies in schools. Dogs are great at assisting police as well as creating goodwill in the community, so why not use them in schools?
Two new companies, American Success Dog Training and K9s4KIDs, are setting out to explore the possibility of using specially trained dogs as an alternative way to protect schools. Their pups can be trained to detect weapons and can even learn to disengage a person with a gun, just like police dogs. They can also be used in lessons to teach compassion.
After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Mark Gomer decided to start American Success Dog Training and use his experience training dogs to help protect school children.
Mark's first full-time safety dog, a one year-old Dutch Shepherd named Atticus, reported to duty this September at Oak Hills High School in Green Township, Ohio, at a cost of $10,000. Atticus trained during the summer, learning to perform his duties among distractions like marching bands, school bells, and locker door slamming. Atticus spends the day with two security guards and goes home with Principal John Stoddard at night. The kids love him and many parents have expressed comfort in knowing Atticus is at their school.
For districts who can't afford such a hefty price tag, Kristi Schiller began her non-profit, K9s4KIDs, after law enforcement agencies applying for trained dogs through her K9s4COPs program suggested she expand to academia. If a school applies for and is chosen to receive a dog, K9s4KIDS provides the training, but it's up to school officials to decide who will be the handler, who the dog will live with, and what specific tasks will be taught.
There's a lot of potential for school safety dogs to prevent tragedy by helping with security and providing education and comfort. I'm looking forward to seeing more schools take advantage of these talented pups.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
He was talking about a dog
It’s a good thing his kindergarten teacher knew that Carson was talking about a dog when he burst into the room Monday morning and shared his news:
“We got a sh*tter!”
His teacher had been hearing for weeks that they were going to add a new dog to the family. This allowed her to probe into the situation to find out what he meant rather than send him to the principal’s office because of what he said.
So, she was prepared to ask him things like, “Is your new puppy a setter?” “Does the puppy shed a lot?” and “Did you get a Shih-tzu?” That last one was the right question because it prompted Carson to say, “Oh, yeah, that’s it. We got a Shih-tzu. Her name’s Coconut.”
Coconut is now over three years old, and every time I see her, it makes me happy. Mostly, I feel cheerful around her because she is sweet and sociable as well as soft and adorably fluffy. (Really, I defy anyone to visit with her and NOT be happy!) But part of the reason, she makes me smile is that it always makes me remember Carson’s gleeful and well-intentioned—if not totally appropriate—announcement in kindergarten.
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