The Good, the Bad, and the Furry: Support Dogs 101

Happy beagle dog has his paw in his owner's hands. The owners are petting the happy beagle dog on his back with their other hands layered with the man's hand on the bottom, woman's hand in the middle, with the beagle's paw on top.

At Gluckstein Lawyers, we represent clients dealing with the physical and emotional fallout of their injuries.

They could be victims of a motor vehicle accident, a sexual assault or a negligent medical procedure. Whatever the circumstance, their lives have been indelibly scarred and the trauma they are experiencing can be compounded by the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

In my role in the accident benefits department advocating for clients’ benefits, I have witnessed their pain. I have also seen the positive effect specially trained dogs can have on some of our clients as they navigate through an extremely difficult time in their lives.

Many people consider dogs to be man’s (and woman’s) best friend. But support dogs are much more than that. They can be service dogs who help the blind or deaf or therapy dogs who work with their owners to improve the lives of others. Emotional support dogs provide companionship, relieve loneliness and can help with depression or anxiety and certain phobias.

These canines are not just companions, they can be lifelines connecting their owners to the world or can provide an essential emotional boost. While I have long known about the benefits of support dogs, I have an even greater appreciation for them after training my own emotional support dog.

I basically fell into training my dog and I love it. I rescued Sweetpea from a breeder and she had the temperament needed to be a support dog. She is great with children and the elderly and is extremely intelligent. I have a medical condition so if I were to pass out, I wanted her trained to be able to help me.

I worked with her so she can take someone on or off a bus. If someone faints and falls to the ground, she will sit and bark to get someone’s attention.

For Sweetpea to be certified as a support dog I needed to take accredited training. By law, I am entitled to take her anywhere I go. It is a privilege I cherish because Sweetpea’s presence provides me with comfort and confidence when I am out in public. However, in my travels with her, I have noticed a growing number of fake service dogs.

People can go online and purchase service dog vests without proof of training. This may not seem like such a big deal but it can be. Unlike properly trained dogs, these canines may jump on people, bark or even attack legitimate service animals. As Gluckstein associate lawyer Gabriel Lessard recently explained any dog, no matter the breed or size, can attack, causing severe consequences.

CBC reported fake service animals have become a nuisance for businesses and properly trained dog owners.

Businesses cannot ask customers about their disabilities under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Still, they can demand proof that a person needs a service dog, such as a doctor’s note or certification that the canine has been trained. However, not only can people purchase vests without the proper training it is also possible to get certificates stating a dog is certified.

Those doing this make it “more difficult for people who actually legitimately do need service animals,” Kyle Rawn, of Accessibility Professionals of Ontario, told CBC. "It's wrong. It's almost becoming an epidemic across the province,” she said. "It's really unfortunate because it makes it more difficult for people who actually legitimately do need service animals. I understand that people love their animals and they want their animals to be with them, but the law is the law. You shouldn't be passing off your animal as a service animal. It's fraud."

According to CBC, a private member’s bill was introduced in the Ontario legislature in 2016 known as the Ontario Service Dogs Act, which dictates that "no person shall falsely represent himself or herself as being a person with a disability for the purpose of claiming the benefit of this Act." However, that bill is yet to be passed into law.

It is unfortunate that such a bill is even necessary. However, if people are going to pass their pets off as service or support dogs there should be consequences.

The training for an emotional support dog is actually a simple matter of going on the internet and getting the proper training, which is not as arduous as some may think. However, training a service dog for people with a disability, such as the blind or the deaf is much more intensive.

To train a dog for the CNIB, a person must foster a puppy and teach them basic commands. They will live with the dog for up to two years and they must take classes with the CNIB. When the training ends, the dog goes to its new owner.

After my experience with Sweetpea, I have decided to volunteer to train a dog for the CNIB. I know when it is time for the dog to move on it will be a little difficult but I have no doubt it will be a rewarding experience. Besides, I will always have Sweetpea and I will never give her up. There is a tremendous need for people to train service dogs and I encourage anyone with the time to volunteer to look into it.


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