While Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s heart was in the right place when he enacted state law to assure people with disabilities and their service dogs access to public places, the reasoning baffles everyone at Canine Angels.
The Americans With Disabilities Act granted service animals accompanying their handlers the right to enter public places more than 20 years ago, yet this federal law is still widely misinterpreted or ignored. The answer is education, not more laws to duplicate those that haven’t been enforced.
Recognizing this problem, the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy recently enlisted Canine Angels to help their graduates understand ADA law. The law offers some protection, but leaves too much open to interpretation.
The real issue -- for businesses, service dog owners and law enforcement --is a lack of standards. We do not have a national registry for service dogs, a national certification test, or even a dress code. Canine Angels wear vests to identify them as working dogs and their owners carry certification tags, but the law does not require it. That leaves room for confusion and fraud.
When unscrupulous dog owners pass untrained pets off as service dogs, the result is liability for well-intentioned businesses, a disaster for the service dog community and an insult to everyone who relies on working dogs for their independence. Representing a pet as a highly trained service dog with a fake license and vest, easily procured online, is not a victimless crime.
With the help of our veterans, Canine Angels is working to raise awareness of ADA law on a local and national level. As more wounded warriors return with physical and mental injuries, encountering service dogs in public places will become more commonplace. We owe it to our nation’s heroes to support the rights guaranteed them by ADA law. More laws aren’t the answer. Let’s tighten up the ones we have and enforce them.
North Myrtle Beach
Kaplan is president of Caninie Angels Service Dogs, a 50(c)3 charity that rescues and trains dogs and provides them free to disabled veterans. www.canineangelsservicedogs.org.