I hope VA doctors aren’t handing out letters to their patients stating that their cute little puppy or dog can give them comfort and they would benefit from bringing them with them at all times.
The reason I’m asking is that I have encountered many—and I mean many—so called dogs wandering with their owners at the VA Hospitals flashing letters and certification cards that they can bring “Fido” because they have these documents. The only dogs allowed under the Rehab Act are dogs that mitigate their handlers’ disability and perform tasks for those disabilities. These dogs that are unruly, attack other Service Dog teams (mine has been attacked twice in the past year—both in Phoenix and Tucson) are allowed to stay because “they have a letter from their doctors allowing them.” These dogs are normally called Emotional Support Animals and are not authorized public access under the Rehab Act or the ADA.
After my dog was attacked, the VA police wouldn’t do a darn thing to help me. They said they have a letter allowing the dog to be there. They had the nerve to tell me to try to avoid them. Well, how am I suppose to have a Certified Mobility Service Dog (approved by VA in the proper channels) be in the same clinic with another dog barking, lunging, etc. at my “legit” service dog. One of these dogs was even allowed on the waiting chairs and the VA police wouldn’t do anything.
I think it’s about time that a lecture was given to VA Staff on the laws and what a Service Dog and Emotional Support Animals are. VA doctors just can’t be handing out letters for “Fido” to be allowed. I nearly fell due to the last encounter and if I get hurt from a fall it could land me in the hospital. Mental Health Staff should know the difference between a Service Dog, Emotional Support Animal, and Psychiatriatic Service Dogs. Here’s a great resource on Emotional Support Animals.
Many VA medical staff do not realize that when they give out medical notes for an assistance animal (which also could be an Emotional Support Animal which many of their patients fall under this category) that the dogs must be trained to perform tasks to mitigate their handlers disabilities under the Rehab/ADA laws. You can train your Service Animal without going through the ADI, but the handler should at least train their teams to the same high standards. They can take the Canine Good Citizen Test (CGC) when they’re ready by age one and should be able to pass a Public Access Test (PAT) which “should” keep out the out of control teams that are passing off as Service Dogs at VA facilites. The first step is educating the medical staff on what a service dog is and the training that is required for them to perform tasks. If they want the veterans to have a companion that doesn’t mitigate their disability they must inform their clients that the dog will not be a service dog, but an emotional support animal which cannot be allowed in the public (no training required). They must inform them that they’re only for home use due to the fact that their disability is defined by the Rehab/ADA laws. Also, they should try to follow the new guidelines that the Dept of Veterans Affairs set up to get a Service Dog through the ADI. Veterans need to remember that carrying a letter or certifying their team is not required by law. The only time certification is required by the ADI is when a Veteran goes through the Department of Veterans Affairs to secure a Service Dog.
Veterans who do owner training should look at the AKC for the CGC test requirements. They also can look at the training standards for the ADI for training their team. A sampling of what can be found at the ADI site:
The service dog must respond to commands (basic obedience and skilled tasks) from the client 90 percent of the time on the first asks in all public and home environments.
The service dog should demonstrate basic obedience skills by responding to voice and/or hand signals for sitting, staying in place, lying down, walking in a controlled position near the client and coming to the client when called.
Psychiatric Service Dogs are true Service Dogs who mitigate their handles disabilities. If a VA Staff member thinks their client could benefit from such a dog then they should look at the guidelines for having one. Before going to the ADI program the private trainer I used had me train my Service Dog with the ADI standards. It can work for any Veteran who wishes to use a Service Dog and train them to meet their disability needs.
Another big problem is that Veterans are finding these “Certify Your Service Dog” websites that will take your money and state that your dog is certified without any training. These sites are scams out to collect your money for a bogus certification. Some Veterans are showing this when they’re questioned on their team’s behavior. They have to remember under the law no certification is required.
Ellen McCarthy is a DAV Life Member and the owner of Shadow, a certified mobility service dog.