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Local woman questions claims of service dogs
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There are federal laws concerning licensing of service dogs and the limits businesses can place on them. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Because she has suffers from epileptic seizures, Ceres resident DeEtta Purdue has a service dog to help her while shopping and running errands. The dog can sense impending seizures about 15 minutes before they happen, allowing Purdue to take medications to prevent them.

State law requires businesses to allow service dogs to accompany their owners in stores and offices but Purdue has the sneaking suspicion that some dog owners are bringing their dogs into stores which aren't truly service dogs.

"It really makes it rougher on the ones who have legitimate service dogs," complained Purdue. "They're not doing their dogs right because their dogs try to bite people on the butt. Three times now I've run into that."

She claims homeless people have been able to get their dogs declared service dogs so that they may accompany them into stores and public places. Last month she boarded a Ceres Area Transit bus and said a man with a pit bull was "growling and snapping at everybody so the bus driver told the guy that he had to move to the back." Purdue believed the pit bull was not a legitimate service dog because of his behavior and began to protest. An exchange of words took place between her and the pit bull owner, followed by him tossing her a service dog tag issued by Stanislaus County. Purdue asked the man where he got the tag and he begrudgingly told her he went to the Thomas Mayfield Regional Animal Services Center operated by the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency on Cornucopia Way after completing an affidavit saying it was a service dog.

"They didn't even ask to check the dog," claims Purdue. They don't even ask for a doctor's note that says you need to have your dog with you or nothing. They're just handing them out like sugar cubes."

Annette Patton, executive director of the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency, said her agency issues a service dog license and tag at no cost with appropriate documentation. She specifically said documentation must be in the form of registration papers with either the National Service Animal Registry (NSAR) or the ADA; or a doctor's note stating the dog has been trained to do work or perform tasks for people with a disability.

Purdue feels the staff isn't checking for proof - a charge that has not been substantiated.

According to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and state laws, people with disabilities are allowed public access rights for their specially trained assistance dogs. This means that their assistance dogs are legally allowed to accompany the person into stores, restaurants, public transportation, and other places where dogs are not normally allowed.

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 the blind, alerting the deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, signaling a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications and calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person's disability.

Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

Most stores typically only allow service dogs in their stores, excluding comfort and anxiety dogs. Store employees and managers may only ask if the dog is a service dog and what task it performs. They cannot inquire about the person's medical issue, however.

"Of course, if you have a dog and you want to get it into the store, then the automatic thing you're going to say is, ‘Well, yes,'" said Purdue.

Anyone with a service dog has the responsibility to make sure the dog is well behaved and under control, on leash or harness, well-groomed and responsible for cleaning up after the Assistance Dog and for any damage the dog may do.