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Monday, August 12, 2013

Tara Palmeri on Service Dogs: Misleading and Problematic

Tara Palmeri is at it again. A second article on service dog abuse appeared in the NY Post today. As with Palmeri's previous article I lambasted, she does not let factual information interfere with a catchy headline and objectionable photograph above. Palmeri  wrote she "borrowed my mom’s wacky golden retriever/poodle mix “Hampton’’ for a day to check out The Post’s recent report that dog lovers are decking out their pooches with phony vests and fake ID tags to get them into fancy restaurants and shops. The first stop for our party of five — Hampton and four human pals willing to lie for him — was Orsay on Lexington Avenue.Hampton — showing off his phony “service dog’’ patch we had specially embroidered — happily slobbered as he wolfed down an 8-ounce salmon filet." The photograph and article has one intent: outrage readers. The dog owners that knowingly purchase fake service dog vests are not taken to task. Utterly ignored is how bogus service animals affect the experience of people with a disability who form a service dog team. The fact is people with a disability that use a service dog routinely encounter discrimination (this would make a great article). Where in Palmeri's estimation does fault lie?  The American with Disabilities Act is to blame! 

Palmeri mixes fact and fiction. There is a grain of truth in what she wrote. For example, at the restaurant she took the poorly behaved pet to the  "maitre d' couldn't ask because the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits businesses from demanding a canine's credentials. It also doesn't allow managers ask its human companion about their disability". This assessment is grossly misleading and the language utilized is of importance. First, the ADA was revised to address the problem of fake service dogs in 2011. The Department of Justice, tasked with enforcing the ADA, permits business owners to ask two questions of people that use service dogs. First, is the animal a service dog, and second, what is the service dog trained to do. Given this, a person that brings a fake service dog into any business establishment is a liar who has violated Federal Civil rights legislation. Palmeri is correct about one thing: business owners cannot ask a person about their disability. This would violate the ADA. A person's disability is not relevant--a point Palmeri completely missed. What is relevant? As already stated is the dog in question appropriately trained and what is it trained to do. This is all a business owner needs to know. What is of interest to me is the wording in the article. Palmeri thinks business owners can "demand" proof of a "canine's credentials". This is incorrect. No service dog owner is required to prove his animal is "credentialed". This idea, a service dog owner must carry documentation or papers, is false and illegal. More generally, does a business owner have the right to demand any information from a customer? The assumption here is that people with a disability are inherently unequal--that is a person without a disability can, when the whim strikes, ask invasive and inappropriate questions. This phenomenon is common--every person with a disability I have ever met is routinely asked inappropriate questions.  

I am disturbed by Palmeri's articles. First, anyone with even limited exposure to service dogs quickly observes the difference between a pet and a service dog is profound. A pet such as the one Palmeri borrowed behavior was grossly inappropriate. If a service dog acted like Palmeri's borrowed pet did it would be immediately corrected and removed from the establishment. What Palmeri is relying on is ignorance. The general public and businesses large and small do not care about the ADA. The ADA is a burden, Federal legislation that must be complied with. The civil rights of people with a disability are always somehow different. This sort of dehumanization process plays a prominent role in Palmer's article. She leads the reader to an erroneous if not illegal conclusion: any person, especially business owners, can at any time "demand" a service dog "credentials". The fault is not with able bodied pet owners that lie but with the ADA. Sadly, the glib headlines and photograph will do much harm. I suspect guide teams will face increased scrutiny and discrimination when they try and have an ordinary day. But if I have learned one thing in the last 35 plus years of using a wheelchair it is that the ordinary is illusive for people with a visible disability.