The adventures of SD Juno and SDIT Kaline (and their human, Colt).

29 January 2014

Service dogs in the news, or How not to be a jerk

This is a service dog.
This is also a service dog.
A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine was illegally forced to leave a hospital where she was visiting a sick friend. This happened because of the breed of her service dog: American Pit Bull Terrier. The story is finally hitting the news, especially because the person supposed to prosecute the case won't do it—because he is prejudiced against pit bulls. And because he thinks the ADA was written by morons.

Most people are being supportive. Her dog did absolutely nothing wrong, was never off-leash as this scumbag lawyer might have you believe, and she had every right to be accompanied by him in the hospital.

Yet a lot of people are doing two things that just make me flaming mad. Some of these people are members of the public who may not know any better, so I will cut them a tiny bit of slack. But some of these people are other service dog handlers.

Here are the two things. DO NOT DO THESE THINGS.

1. Respond to a story of discrimination against a service dog handler with victim-blaming. Example: “Why would you choose a pit bull as your SD? You know it's going to be harder.”

2. Demand to know exactly what the handler's disability is and/or exactly what the dog does to mitigate it.

We'll start with point one. I will be very blunt.


When someone is discriminated against, the fault lies with the person who did the discriminating. The victim did nothing wrong.

Yes, when you choose a pit bull as your SD—or a Doberman, for that matter—you go into it knowing that your dog's behavior will probably color people's perceptions of their entire breed. You accept that your dog will probably be held to much higher standards of behavior. You prepare yourself for the probability that you will encounter more access challenges than a handler of a Labrador or Golden Retriever.

Choosing a breed is very personal. It is not a choice anyone makes lightly. You choose your breed because it works best for you in terms of both your personality and disability. For some people, the breed they mesh best with is a Golden Retriever. For some people, it is a pit bull.

Just because you will encounter more access challenges with a pit bull SD does NOT mean that these challenges have any merit. Pit bull handlers deserve the same respectful treatment, the same rights, as Labrador handlers. Even if their dogs are very fit and well-muscled, even if their dogs' ears are cropped. They may have to fight harder for those rights, as my friend is doing. As I said, that's something you prepare for when you have a pit bull, a Doberman, a Rottweiler, a Cane Corso, any “scary” breed as a service dog.

When you encounter these challenges, you deserve exactly the same support as a Labrador handler. My friend did not bring this hassle on herself, somehow, by choosing to work a pit bull. This is not her fault. This is the fault of the hospital staff who illegally discriminated against her, a disabled SD handler.

Even if those who threw her out hadn't mentioned her dog's breed as the reason, his breed still would not be relevant to the case. The only thing about him that is relevant is that he is a highly trained, impeccably behaved service dog who was doing his job. His handler's federally protected right to be accompanied by her SD was violated. The end.

On to point No. 2.

I understand that members of the public are curious about other people. (Boy, do I understand.) I understand that fake service dogs are a problem (though not nearly as much of a problem as the media make them out to be). I understand that other service dog handlers are curious and want to know all the details of every service dog story.

But here's the thing: It's still none of your business. You still have no right to know what a handler's disability is or what her dog does specifically to mitigate it. If she chooses to share it, fine. If she doesn't, put on your big-kid pants and deal with it.

A service dog handler's rights do not vanish into thin air when they become a subject of a news story. I hear many handlers complain about members of the public asking intrusive questions about their dog and/or disability, but many of these same handlers feel they have every right to know this personal information once a team is in the news. Members of the public seem to feel that if they are not given this personal medical information, the team must be fake.

Sorry, that's not how it works.

The only people with the right to delve into a handler's disability are their doctor(s) and a judge, if a case regarding their SD goes to court and they need to prove their disability and the dog's training. That's the complete list.

Handlers, of course, may choose to divulge details to friends and family. Some are exceedingly open and have no problem sharing these details with the world. More power to them—I admire that kind of bravery, since I would never, ever voluntarily do that. But some handlers don't want their medical history splashed all over a news story. That is a perfectly valid position. It does not somehow mean they're fake.

Please remember these things when you read stories of service dogs and their handlers in the news. No one deserves or “asks for” discrimination, no matter what breed of dog they work. Their personal information is still personal and private. Be supportive, because tomorrow, that could be you.


  1. Oh geeze. A HOSPITAL of all places should know better. And a lawyer, regardless of his OPINION of the law, should know it. So frustrating and awful and ridiculous :(

    1. Yeah, you'd think so, right? Apparently this “lawyer” has stepped wrong a lot before. Longtime scumbag.