Service Dogs

A couple of nights ago my husband and I went to a local restaurant. I was feeling rather delicate that night and had my service dog Timothy with me. Timothy is a black British Labrador. He is extremely well trained. His training course, led by Katie Gonzales the owner and head trainer of Little Angels Service Dogs lasted seven months. Timothy does a great job of taking care of me and doesn’t pay much attention to anyone unless they force the issue. The hostess invited us to sit on the patio. My husband spoke up.

“No, he’s a service dog. It’s okay.”

“He’s a service dog? I need to see his papers,” insisted the hostess.

“Ah… According to the Americans with Disabilities Act; you can ask me two questions,” I countered. I was already starting to shake and could feel the eyes of the restaurant on me. Unable to deal with the pressure, I left. My darling husband stayed and explained everything.

As a student at Chico State, I have interacted with other people with service dogs. I have come across at least three other veterans at school who have well-trained service dogs. In my travels around the country, I have interacted with fantastic, well trained service-dogs and their veterans handlers.

After much coaxing, my husband got me to come back inside. The nice hostess led us to our seat and Timothy curled up under my feet and went to sleep snoring loudly. The hostess and the manager were very apologetic. It seems that people with untrained service dogs come into their establishment on a regular basis. Then the poor dog makes a ruckus and disrupts the other customers. The manager assured me that they don’t discriminate against people with disabilities, but they have to take care of their business and protect their patrons.

I’ve heard that before, and I understand.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, “When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task” (ADA 2010).

The ADA gives disabled Americans the protection they need to interact with society with their help of their service animals. However, we in the disabled community have the responsibility to ensure that our dogs are well trained and well mannered.

If you are a member of our community and have an untrained service dog, please reach out and get your dog trained. You aren’t doing yourself or the members of your community any favors by insisting upon your rights and then not living up to your end of the deal. Your service dog performs important services for you, and your helper must be given the tools to handle being your constant companion in a world that sees him just as another dog.

If you are a veteran, please contact your local VA. If you are not, please talk to your doctor. Having a trained, well behaved service dog is the right thing to do. You will benefit, your dog will benefit and your community will benefit.

Sylvia Bowersox first went to Iraq in 2003 as a US Army broadcast journalist. She was stationed in Mosul and Baghdad, but reported from Coalition outposts around the country. A year in Iraq wasn’t enough, so she returned to Baghdad as a civilian, spending almost two years working in the US Embassy as a State Department press officer. Bowersox received her BA in English literature from San Francisco State University, and is currently completing her MA in creative writing at California State University, Chico. She was recently honored by a Pushcart nomination for her nonfiction essay, “This War Can’t be All Bad.” Her nonfiction essay, “The Importance of a Dollar Bill,” has been submitted to the National Associate Writing Program Awards competition. She lives in Chico with her husband Jon, her son Holden, and her service dog Timothy.