The owner of a Massachusetts restaurant thought that he knew what service dogs look like, and the terrier in his dining room didn’t fit the profile. “It just looked like a regular mutt,” he told a reporter. Not like the guide dogs for the blind or alert dogs for the deaf that most people picture when they hear the words “service dog.” He threw the dog and his owner out of the restaurant, prompting boycotts and howls of protest.
The rules for who is a service dog and who isn’t were clarified by the federal Department of Justice in 2010, due to the increase in the number of pets considered “therapy” and “emotional support” animals. While therapy and support animals are very valuable, that doesn’t mean they get to accompany their owner to the hospital or to a diner. So what does? The official policy is simple: a service animal is an animal trained to perform a specific task for a person that helps that person manage or function with an illness or disability.
Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.
While some service animals start intensive training as puppies, there are other tasks that almost any dog can learn to do. Shelter pups or dogs that the patient already owns can be trained to do tasks like picking up items from the floor, pulling wheelchairs, or performing specific tasks to calm their owners during an anxiety attack.
All of this brings us back to the diner in Massachusetts. The owner says that the service dog didn’t have the impeccable manners he expected of a service dog, and was just a “regular mutt” (actually a Jack Russell Terrier, but close enough.) This dog came from a shelter as a regular pet, then was performed to redirect his owner by putting a paw on him or otherwise distracting him when he senses stress reactions.
“I may have sworn at him,” the diner owner says. According to the customer, what he actually said was “Get that f-ing fake service dog out of my restaurant.” The community rose up to defend the terrier and his owner, who happens to be an Iraq veteran with two decades of service in the Air Force. The dog helps him with post-traumatic stress disorder, and had been trained by a group that trains veterans’ existing pets or shelter dogs to serve as service animals.
There’s a rally of motorcycles and service dogs planned for this weekend, and the restaurant owner now admits that he simply didn’t know what the dog’s job was or what he was trained to do.
Oxford restaurant refuses veteran’s service dog [Worcester Telegram](thanks, Thomas!)