Lexi Easter, Staff Writer
Walking into 54th Street Diner with Moose, my psychiatric service dog, the hope is that it will be a simple breakfast with minimal staring. Some staring is to be expected because I am walking with a four-legged, chocolate beast.
When walking into the diner today, Moose and I spotted another beast. Moose, in his focused mode, quickly ignored it as he should. A trained service dog should ignore all outside factors and just focus on the task at hand. The other “service dog” used its’ laser eyes to focus on Moose and did everything in its power to crawl out of its handler’s lap. One of the expectations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the service dog to be under the control of the handler at all times. The handler at the diner attempted to hurriedly get control of her dog, but the dog refused to listen. Moose and I moved to a back-dining room and the “service dog” calmed down.
Now the issue with ill-behaved “service dogs” is many places of business feel they cannot ask the two questions that are covered by the ADA: Is the dog service animal required because of a disability? What work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Many times, these questions are not enough to determine the legitimacy of a service dog and as I said before many places of business are not aware of this.
Another tricky thing about emotional support animals (ESAs) and psychiatric service dogs (PSDs) is that there is quite a blurry line between the two. The big difference ESAs are not covered under the ADA. According to the ADA website, ESAs “…provide comfort just by being with the person… [and] have not been trained to perform a specific job or task.” A PSD is many times specifically trained to sense when an anxiety attack is about to happen and take specific action to help avoid the attack and lessen its impact. According to the ADA, this qualifies as a service animal.
Now for me personally, restaurants are one of my weak points because I hate being in enclosed spaces with people I do not know. I need Moose to be on his very best, most focused behavior. I need him to preemptively predict my panic attacks so that I do cause harm to myself by obsessively scratching.
A loud crash of dishes sent me into a spiral of dark thoughts, and I needed to separate myself from the rush and bustle of the diner. One of the things Moose is trained to do is find an exit when I am starting to dissociate, or I tell him “time to go.” As we were leaving, the “service dog” was also venturing out. We met at the door and it was chaos. The other beast went in for a sniff and it knocked Moose off his game. In turn, Moose and I were not able to leave which caused me to have a severe panic attack.
This is one of the many reasons why there need to be stricter laws when it comes to service dogs and particular PSDs. An idea that continues to come to mind is that all service dogs must pass a Canine Good Citizen test and show proof of that. I also believe that business should not be afraid to ask the two covered question and if needed, ask the dog to leave.