A Seeing Eye Perspective

A Seeing Eye Perspective

By James A. Kutsch, Jr.
President & CEO, The Seeing Eye

From The Seeing Eye Guide. Winter 2016-2017 Volume 82, Number 3

We’ve all heard reports of “fake service animals” – people who fraudulently claim their pet dogs are service animals and therefore are entitled to accompany them in public under the same legal protections afforded to my Seeing Eye® dog Vegas while he is guiding me.

Many well-intentioned people have suggested new regulations that would differentiate between legitimate service animals like Vegas from those whose owners are making false claims, such as creation of a national service dog registry with identification cards or an official “service animal vest” to differentiate legitimate service animals from pets.

And they’re often surprised to hear that I don’t support this idea.

There are a number of logistical problems with these solutions: Who would issue the cards or vests? How would the system be funded? How would international visitors with service animals be handled? What would prevent the cards or vests from being counterfeited? If the cards or vests are tied to a national or state registry, how do businesses, public transportation operators, and others go about accessing this information? Would every service animal have to be microchipped, and all businesses be issued chip readers, to ensure the animal in question is indeed the specific service animal the disabled person is permitted to have in public?

The proposed ID card system also would require the disabled person take the extra step of showing an ID card before entering an establishment. That “step” would be discriminatory and would take away a disabled person’s right to be treated like everyone else – a right that one of our founders, Morris Frank, and thousands more of our graduates have fought long and hard to uphold.

But the single, largest issue with these proposed regulations centers on protecting the privacy of the person who is disabled. This is particularly important when the person is blind or visually impaired. As a blind person, I can’t verify the authenticity of the person asking to see my ID. How do I know if it’s a legitimate request, someone being nosy, or an attempt by a criminal to obtain my personal information?

The good news: Under existing federal law, any service animal, legitimate or not, can be excluded if it is misbehaving. No additional legislation is required. The Americans with Disabilities Act states that an animal can be removed from the premises if it “is out of control and the animal’s handler does not take effective action to control it, or the animal is not housebroken.”

Of course, “out of control” and “effective action” are in the eye of the beholder. However, the U.S. Department of Justice maintains that uncontrolled barking, vicious growling and lunging at other customers (or service animals), and wandering away from the owner are examples of unacceptable behavior. Moreover, stores are not required to allow service animals to be placed in shopping carts, and places that serve food or drink are not required to allow service animals to be seated on chairs or fed at the table.

Instead of coming up with additional rules, let’s educate businesses and the public on the laws that already exist, and do all we can to ensure people who are disabled don’t have additional hurdles to overcome as they engage in the ordinary activities of daily life.