[nfbwatlk] Article about service dogs

Mary Ellen gabias at telus.net
Wed Mar 2 11:03:06 CST 2011

I thought you might be interested in this article about service animals, or
those owners who want to masquerade their pets as service animals.
Wall Street Journal, Feb. 24, 2011

>>Leapin' Lizards! Service Animals Are Multiplying Like Doggone Rabbits
>> > Skippy the Iguana Keeps His Owner Calm, But
>> Therapy Dog Maxx Is an Impostor
>> >
>> > Rhonda Kimmel's 11-year-old West Highland
>> terrier, Maxx, goes with her everywhere-to the mall, restaurants and 
>> even to the bank.
>> >
>> > Cosmie Silfa relies on an unusual companion
>> to help him stay clean and sober: Skippy, a four-year-old iguana. But 
>> changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act could decertify Skippy 
>> as an official service animal. WSJ's Clare Major reports.
>> >
>> > What gives Maxx entree to places normally
>> off-limits to canines and other animals is the embroidered, purple 
>> vest he sports. It says: "Therapy Dog Maxx."
>> >
>> > Maxx is a lot of things, including
>> well-behaved, and he is a faithful companion. 
>> What he is not, however, is a therapy dog or a service dog, and Ms. 
>> Kimmel is not disabled.
>> >
>> > Still, Ms. Kimmel says the vest, which she
>> purchased online, no questions asked, makes people think otherwise, 
>> so they don't object to Maxx. "They know they are not supposed to 
>> ask," Ms. Kimmel says, alluding to the federal law that protects 
>> people with  service animals from inquiries about the nature of their
>> >
>> > The various uses for service animals,
>> particularly dogs, have expanded in recent  years beyond the 
>>traditional tasks of helping  blind and deaf people get around safely. 
>>Dogs  now are used to help people detect the onset  of seizures, alert 
>>diabetics when t heir glucose levels drop too low, and remind 
>>psychiatric patients to take their medicine.
>> >
>> > Cosmie Silfa says his iguana, Skippy, is a
>> bona-fide service animal-and to buttress his point, he carries around 
>> a letter from his psychiatrist.
>> >
>> > But the trend also means that there are many
>> more ways to game the system-so pet lovers need never be without 
>> their companions, even if the rules say they should leave the shih 
>> tzu at home.
>> >
>> > Last summer, after Ocean Park, Md., resident
>> Joseph Wayne Short began walking Hillary, his  four-foot-long iguana 
>>on the boardwalk, the  city council passed an ordinance prohibiting  
>>undomesticated animals from mingling with the public, according to 
>>City S olicitor Guy Ayres.
>> >
>> > Mr. Short fought back. He plunked down $64
>> to place Hillary on the Internet-based National Service Animal 
>> Registry, a private company that, among other things, sells 
>> service-animal credentials.
>> >
>> > On the company website, where Hillary's
>> picture and registration number is displayed, it says under service 
>> type: unspecified. But Mr. Short, who couldn't be reached for 
>> comment, has told people that Hillary keeps him calm.
>> >
>> > "The gentleman claimed that the iguana was
>> his service animal, so I am not sure the police looked into it 
>> further," Mr. Ayres says.
>> >
>> > The registry didn't return repeated phone calls for comment.
>> >
>> > Cosmie Silfa, in San Francisco, also has a
>> "service iguana." His name is Skippy. Mr. 
>> Silfa takes him on the bus and walks him in a local park.
>> >
>> > "He cradles him like a baby, a big scary
>> baby," says Roy Mair, who works the front desk  of the subsidized 
>>housing unit where Mr. Silfa  lives. Mr. Silfa says what qualifies 
>>Skippy as  a service animal is a letter from the psychiatrist who has 
>>been treatin g Mr. Silfa for depression. The letter says Skippy "helps 
>>him to maintain a stable mood."
>> >
>> > Fearing a backlash, advocates for the
>> disabled last fall successfully lobbied the Department of Justice to 
>> narrow the definition of service animals.
>> >
>> > Beginning March 15, the ADA will only
>> recognize dogs as service animals. The new regulations include a 
>> provision that says the public must accommodate, where reasonable, 
>> trained miniature horses as well.
>> >
>> > The new rules are an effort to "stop erosion
>> of the public's trust, which has resulted in  reduced access for many 
>>individuals with  disabilities who use trained service animals  that 
>>adhere to high behavioral standards," according to a Justice 
>>Department spokeswoman.
>> >
>> > The Department of Transportation, too, tried
>> to crack down on dubious service animals on planes, but that created 
>> more problems than it solved.
>> >
>> > "It's a mess," says Toni Eames, president of
>> the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners.
>> >
>> > The DOT attempted to weed out passengers
>> pretending their pets were service animals in order to avoid having 
>> to ship them as cargo or, in the case of smaller animals, to keep 
>> them in a carrier at their feet.
>> >
>> > The new rules allow animals that aid people
>> with physical disabilities to board a plane freely. The only question 
>> airline personnel are allowed to ask is how the animal assists the 
>> person.
>> >
>> > But passengers who want to board with
>> psychiatric or emotional-support animals must contact the airline 48 
>> hours before departure and submit a letter from a licensed 
>> mental-health professional that documents their mental or emotional
>> >
>> > Mental-health advocates are outraged and
>> have petitioned the Transportation Department to get rid of the new
>> >
>> > "We are forced to disclose we are mentally
>> ill in order to fly. It's un-American," says Joan Esnayra, president 
>> of the Psychiatric Service Dog Society. "Everyone with a service dog 
>> should be treated the same."
>> >
>> > What's more, the new rules do little to get
>> rid of the fakers. "If people are clever and they have a well-behaved 
>> dog, they know just what to say to get their dog on board," says Ms. 
>> Eames. "Or they can get a friendly psychologist to write a note."
>> >
>> > It's risky for businesses to deny access to
>> people accompanied by service dogs-even if  they think they are 
>>pretending to be  disabled-because if suspicions prove to be  
>>unfounded, a business could face civil  penalties of up to $55,000 for 
>>violating a pers on's civil rights.
>> >
>> > The new ADA rules might keep service iguanas
>> Hillary and Skippy off the streets, should the authorities choose to 
>> clamp down. Mr. Silfa, Skippy's owner, says that would make him sad.
>> >
>> > "The natural sunlight is very good for him," 
>> Mr. Silfa says. "But I guess I'll have to cross that bridge if I get to
>> >
>> > Rhonda Kimmel, owner of "Therapy dog Maxx," 
>> says she hates to "take advantage." But she lives in such a hot 
>> climate, she argues that the only place Maxx can get some decent 
>> summer exercise is in the air-conditioned mall.
>> >
>> > Still, she says she knows when to draw the
>> line. She recently was to meet with her lawyer, whose building 
>> doesn't allow dogs. So Ms. Kimmel, the lawyer and Maxx held their 
>> meeting outdoors.
>> >
>> > "I know I was pushing it and I didn't want
>> to start a fight," says Ms. Kimmel. "It's not like I'm blind or
>> >
>> > Write to Ann Zimmerman at ann.zimmerman at wsj.com

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