[nagdu] Variety of service animals can cause confusion

Ginger Kutsch GingerKutsch at yahoo.com
Sat Jan 4 15:09:06 UTC 2014

Variety of service animals can cause confusion 

By Lindsey Anderson

Posted:   01/03/2014 11:27:31 AM MST



Wyleigh, an 8-year-old Australian cattle dog, sits at the feet of his owner
Michael Chapel at a park near their Las Cruces home on Tuesday. Chapel
suffers from spinal stinosis and he has trained his dog to help him during
painful episodes that occur a few times per month. (Robin Zielinski photo)


A Las Cruces McDonald's employee stood at the chain's front door, barring
66-year-old Mike Chapel, a retired law enforcement officer, from entering. 

The employee saw Chapel park in a handicapped spot and walk toward the
building with his service dog, Chapel said. 


"And he said 'Your dog can't come in here,'" Chapel recalled. "... He
refused to let me in. He said he would call the manager. I was standing at
the door with my dog and everyone was looking at me, and I'm really


Service animals are no longer limited to seeing-eye dogs for the blind. They
can perform tasks from fetching medication to alerting owners to low blood
sugar to indicating a room's safety for owners with post-traumatic stress


That diversity and a public uneducated on what service animals do can often
leave owners out in the cold while businesses, ignorant of the law, prohibit
them from entering establishments. 


"This is something I have encountered a number of times," Chapel said,
noting restaurant patrons often glare at Wyleigh, who doesn't wear a service
vest. "... The issue here is the public awareness of service animals." 


What is a service dog?


Service animals are dogs or miniature horses trained to do work or perform
tasks for a person with a disability, according to the Americans with
Disabilities Act. 


Federal law does not require service animals to be professionally trained,
wear vests or have any sort of identification.


On New Mexico State University's campus, Student Accessibility Services
Director Trudy Luken has seen a rise in the number of service animals. 


"In the old days, we had seeing-eye dogs for students who were blind," she
said. "Now we have a lot of dogs doing a multitude of tasks for students
with disabilities. ... We're seeing more animals." 


Luken doesn't know how many animals are on campus, as students aren't
required to notify the university of a service animal, but she said she
doesn't know of any miniature horses on campus. 


The university is training teachers about service animals and their
requirements, she said. "All of this is fairly new," said Luken, who serves
on the Governor's Commission on Disability. 


Chapel and Wyleigh

Chapel has spinal stinosis, a condition that can suddenly cause him to fall
to the ground, immobilized. He once lay on the floor for 24 hours before he
was able to get help. 


Wyleigh, an 8-year-old Australian cattle dog, fetches pain relievers, muscle
relaxers and a cell phone if his owner falls. 


"When I have these episodes, I just go down," Chapel said. "It's so painful.
I can't do anything." 


Chapel has worked in law enforcement in Doña Ana County and Pennsylvania and
trained hunting dogs professionally. He took in Wyleigh when his son could
no longer care for him. 


Around 2010, his spinal stinosis episodes became more frequent. 


"When I started having problems and Wyleigh was there, I thought, 'Duh,'"
Chapel said of the decision to train the dog to be a service animal. 


When Chapel tried to bring Wyleigh to the McDonald's, he told the employee
the dog was a service animal. 


The employee asked for the dog's identification, which the federal
government does not require or issue. Wyleigh also doesn't have to wear a


Chapel often carries a collar saying "Service Dog" and an identification
card he bought online to ease situations like the one at McDonald's. 


"People have a misconception that a service dog wears a vets and there
should be some documentation like an ID card," Chapel said. 


Other aid

John Dylan Cully's service dog Colonel helps him with everything from
picking up dropped objects and opening doors to getting help if he falls. 


The sixth-grader has Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, a genetic
condition that causes severe muscle weakness over time. 


The Cully family was trained on how to handle situations if the duo is
refused access to an establishment, dad John Cully said. 


At the beginning of the school year, mom Jamie Cully and John Dylan took
Colonel around the school to meet the teachers and gave presentations to
students on having the dog in the classroom, helping the students and staff
understand Colonel and his role. The dog "helps me erase my wheelchair,"
John Dylan said when he received Colonel in April, after a seven-year wait. 


Amelia Schwiebert's service dog, Merlin, detects changes in her blood sugar,
helping to keep her Type 1 diabetes in check. He can smell changes in the
NMSU student's blood sugar, poking her thigh then sitting or lying down to
indicate whether levels are high or low. 


Merlin helps her maintain her independence, Schwiebert told the Sun-News
last year. 


"I'm so thankful that I have him when I'm driving from home down to Las
Cruces, all by myself, and knowing that I don't have to sit there and worry
the whole drive, 'What if my blood sugar does something and I become
dangerous to everyone else on the road?'" she said. 


Service animal fraud 


There is some abuse of service animals, which owners and advocates say hurts
legitimate owners most. 


Cards, vests and other identifiers proliferate on the Internet for service
animal owners looking to avoid trouble - and for people hoping to
fraudulently pass off their pets as service animals. 


News organizations across the country have reported on service dog fraud
this year, especially by pet owners looking to skirt airlines' pet fees.
Service animals ride onboard with the owner for free. Hotels and landlords
also can't charge pet fees for service animals. 


New Mexico legislators recently updated state law, making the
misrepresentation of an animal as a service animal a misdemeanor. 


'It will happen again' 


It all comes down to education, Luken aid. 


We're going to have more service animals on campus and in the community, she
said. "We don't need the negative; it's what benefits they provide to our


NMSU can remove a dog from a classroom - say, if the teacher is extremely
allergic - but the university must provide alternatives, such as allowing a
student to Skype into class. 


There are two questions businesses are allowed to ask owners: Is this a
service animal required because of a disability? What tasks has the animal
been trained to do? Asking for identification is against the law, as is
prohibiting entry. 


When owners are challenged, "it makes it very difficult for that person with
a disability because their rights are being denied," Luken said. 


After the incident at McDonald's, Chapel called the regional manager, who
apologized profusely and said the employees would be trained on the rules
for service animals. 


Chapel went back the next day and the employee also apologized for his
mistake, he said. "McDonald's management responded quickly and
appropriately," he said. "But I'm sure it will happen again somewhere else."


Lindsey Anderson can be reached at 575-541-5462. 


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