Am I the only one who has noticed that there are a lot more dogs with “service” vests traveling on planes, sitting in “No Dogs Allowed” restaurants, or visiting shops prohibiting animals?  Probably not, but my last flight had almost as many service dogs on it as passengers.  Were they well behaved?  Yes.  Did they bother anyone?  Not directly but I can assure you my mother would have demanded a dog-free flight.  Was there a doggie-smell?  I became a mouth-breather on that flight so I have no idea.  I can tell you that one dog barfed on my husband’s flight recently and that was unpleasant.  But then, again, human vomit is not exactly delectable.  And while I had intended to whine about this at length, I only will at the end.  Just one big gripe.

There is a squiggly line of distinction between a service dog and a therapy dog.  Some define therapy dogs as those who give emotional support and are more of a companion.  Initially therapy dogs were not qualified as service dogs.  Now, many meet those qualifications.

Service dogs, as per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), must be individually trained to perform work or tasks directly related to the owner’s disability   Most of us have seen a blind person with a Seeing-Eye dog.  I am blessed with having a dear friend who was born blind and always had the most amazing dogs by his side.  Short of cooking dinner (his wife did that), they did everything else.  He did have one slightly psychotic dog that was newly trained and practically dragged all 6’3” of this big guy down the street swiping a kid’s ice cream cone en route.  Needless to say that dog went back into the training program.  But I have seen dogs do amazing things.  Hearing Ear dogs notify owners of phones ringing, doorbells, and alarm clocks.  Dogs that assist with medical issues can retrieve canvas bags and pull out pill bottles, bring a beverage can or bottle, bring a phone to the owner, open a latched front door.  There are dogs trained to warn owners of an impending heart attack or asthma attack, how to tap 911.  These are really the dogs of service.

Therapy service dogs that provide emotional help or support are now being used to work with those suffering from PTSD by bringing someone out of a nightmare and knowing when to approach the owner to confirm reality.  Dogs can assist in helping those with severe claustrophobia by learning to circle around the owner or stand between the owner and someone who gets too close.  They comfort those with extreme fear or insecurity, or anxiety.

Service dogs must be trained in the following:  No nuisance barking, basic obedience, no aggressive behavior towards other dogs, no in appropriate sniffing or intrusion.  As a psychotherapist, I have used my own dogs in some of my therapy sessions.  Just the tactile sensation of petting or holding a living, warm, fuzzy thing can work magic for those with depression.  My dogs would never make it in service dog school, as they would defy all the requirements.  But for a short moment of warm touch, they are the best.

There is an official registry for those looking to qualify their dogs for service.  But now there are websites where one can go and for a moderate fee will be provided with an official certificate and I.D., a dog vest, collar and tags that must be shown at airports and other facilities.  Perhaps that is why the number of  “service” dogs has increased so much recently.

OK – so that is my one moment of whining. . . or barking.  While members of the APA have their rights, everyone else does as well.  Patrons, passengers, shoppers should be asked if they are comfortable having a dog sit near them or walk near them.  As said, my mother would definitely leave a plane if a dog was anywhere near her.  You would find her on the ceiling of a restaurant if a dog was seated next to her and she would never return to a shop or other public place is a dog was permitted in.  I own two dogs.  So when was the last time my Mom visited me??

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About the Author

Susan Winston, LMFT

Susan Winston, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a television producer and writer in Los Angeles.

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