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Owners of assistance animals face additional adversity

March 29, 2018

Katherine Schneider and Gabrielle LeBouton share their additional challenges in having an animal to assist with their needs. Below is the full audio transcript: 


“She’s my best friend. She’s my eyes, and she’s my transportation. So, there are three different hats she wears. She’s around me 24/7, so she’s very tuned in to me and my schedule and my needs.”

That’s Dr. Katherine Schneider who shares a special bond with her ninth service dog, Luna.

As defined by US Support, The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a service animal as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. On the other hand, an emotional support animal is an animal that provides comfort just by being with a person. Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. The ADA was updated in 2010 to give service animals and their owners the ability to enter public establishments.

UW-Eau Claire student Gabrielle LeBouton benefits from the presence of their emotional support cat, Harriet.

“She does a lot of laying on my chest and providing pressure. None of these are things that she was trained to do, they are things that she just does. Even taking care of her is helpful to me and my mental health as well. She is essentially a prescription, like any other type of medication or assistance device, that’s what she is in essence.”

Locally, the organization known as emBARK provides preliminary service animal training in addition to their standard dog training led by owner Heather Mishefske.

“The awareness of the need for service dogs has increased, as well as the need for emotional support dogs. So, we would start with just basic obedience that most dogs would need to learn. Basic cues for service dogs, things like, come when called, stay put, loose-leash walking, being able to navigate through environments with a loose leash, and attention to their owner. All of those are kind of just precursors to the bigger tasks that are going to be taught later in the dog’s life. So, we just offer the more pet-based classes that will just set a foundation for their training in the future.”

One of the larger locations for service animal certification in the area resides in New Hope, Minnesota at Can Do Canines. They have been in business for 29 years and offer five types of service animal training including seizure-assist training and diabetes-assist training. Community outreach coordinator, Laurie Carlson, said that the organization trained over 50 animals in 2017.

In addition to the challenges faced by owners of animals who use their animals to help with their physical, social or emotional needs, other outside variables have made things even more difficult.

As a resident assistant living on campus, the process for LeBouton to get Harriet in their dorm room was quite difficult.  

“It was not an easy process. There were a lot of steps to take – I think I needed two different professionals to fill out the same paperwork in order to verify that I needed her. Having to have so many people sign off on my mental illness – it felt really invalidating to have one professional fill out all of this information and then be told that that wasn’t enough and that I needed another one with older diagnoses to do that. I understand the reasoning for that, but I think that was the hardest part – having to almost defend myself as someone who is mentally ill.”

LeBouton has yet to take Harriet anywhere other than the dorm and the vet, and wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to take their to public places with the lack of clarity over the rights of emotional support animals.

“I think there would be a lot of resistance there. I know in order to do that I would go through and get her ESA certified and make sure that I have the letter from the physician and that sort of thing to be able to do that. I would anticipate quite a bit of resistance there. Anticipating that type of resistance would be part of the reason I might not consider taking her to public establishments and that sort of thing.”

Schneider describes the process she goes through if she faces resistance in public.

“People are trying to figure out like when I go into a restaurant or something like that, it’s pretty obvious that I am blind, and that it’s a trained dog. Most people know that service animals are allowed because of the ADA, but occasionally you still get people that say ‘Nope, you can’t have dogs here,’ at which point you say well it’s a service dog. Then can legally ask, ‘Well, what does it do for you?’ I can say, well I’m blind and it guides me. It stops when it comes to curbs, it leads me around obstacles.”

As the awareness for these animals increases, so does the potential of people abusing the system in order to get a normal pet similar access.

“It’s the honor system, and some people are abusing the honor system. They’re having their beloved pet, and they get a little vest on the internet that says ‘service dog’, making believe that their service pet is a service dog. That’s getting goofy.”

Schneider raised her disapproval for the people who pretend to be in need of a service animal.

“Please don’t do that thinking you’re hurting nobody by scamming, because you are. You’re hurting people that need the animals to be respected and to get where they’re going.”

The ADA made things more clear for service animals, but there may be a need for that kind of clarity among emotional support animals. For someone who may be considering a service animal or emotional support animal, Mishefke provides one helpful tip.

“So, if you’d like to get a dog and train it as a service dog, you have to really define what is the task they’re going to do for you. So, what is the task that you would like to train your dog to do that you can’t do for yourself. Sometimes that helps delineate the line between, ‘Is it a pet I’d like to take somewhere, or is it a dog that I absolutely need so that I can grocery shop, I can go  out in public, so that I can mitigate the tasks throughout the day that I need to?’”

LeBouton hopes that just like service animals, the emotional support animals just like Harriet could have similar rights in the future.

“You know I really wish there would be some sort of policy change or something so that I could bring her with me places. I think that would be very helpful to me given where my mental health is at. I think being able to take her places with me – not necessarily everywhere, but if I knew that I could take her into restaurants and that sort of thing without being removed from those establishments, that would be really helpful for me.”

For Inside Eau Claire, I’m Justin Dade.

1 Comment

One Response to “Owners of assistance animals face additional adversity”

  1. Katherine Schneider on April 3rd, 2018 2:44 pm

    Well done!

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