Disney is an awesome experience for those like me who require help from a service dog. Tasha 2.0 enjoys magical experiences as much as I do, here she is looking out the window of our limousine on our way to the Contemporary Resort. She loves that hotel, especially meeting the characters at Chef Mickey.
Tasha is medical aid, her complete focus is on me. She does however love to meet people young and old, providing you ask permission first. You will find after meeting you and we start chatting about service dogs or Mickey, Tasha will settle back down and her focus is on me.
We have met many other service dogs at Disney, most were like Tasha, well behaved, focused on their job, showing a real commitment to assisting their owners. I know I would not be here if it wasn’t for Tasha and Tasha 2.0. Both have saved my life on more than on occasion, both are bonded to my heart.
1. There are three different kinds of support animals.
Service dogs are task trained to assist handlers with disabilities so the handlers can lead more independent lives. Only service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and must be allowed in public places such as restaurants, grocery stores, and public transportation.
Emotional Support Dogs or Companion Dogs provide emotional comfort to their owners with disabilities but do not require any extra training. Emotional support animals are protected under the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA). Landlords can request that tenants obtain documentation from their doctor that they have a disability and their well-being benefits from having an emotional support animal. It can be as simple as a note written on a prescription pad that you benefit from the presence of the animal. Companion dogs are NOT protected under the ADA.
Therapy dogs provide comfort to many people in a variety of settings such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and more. Therapy dogs are not protected under either the ADA or the FHAA and their access is at the discretion of business owners or managers.
2. There is NO certification for a service dog.
Under the ADA there is no certification required for a service dog. The differences between a service dog and a non-service dog are very apparent. Service dogs may be trained professionally or by their owners to learn how to assist disabled handlers. They must do at least one specifically trained task to assist their owner or disabled handler and be well behaved in public in order to mitigate the impact of that person’s disability. They are essentially medical equipment, such as when a person needs an oxygen tank, a cane, a hearing aid, a blood sugar monitor, etc.
3. Service dogs do not have to wear a vest or any other kind of identification.
A common misconception is that service dogs have to wear identification such as a vest. This is not required under the ADA. However, many handlers choose to use a vest because it makes access easier.
4. There is no breed or weight restriction to a service dog.
Any size or breed of dog can be a service dog. Some dogs are more appropriate for tasks than others. For example, it is not practical for a Chihuahua to pull a wheelchair but they might be able to serve as an alert dog for allergens in food or a hearing alert dog that lets their hearing-impaired owner know when the doorbell or phone rings. Although we typically see Labs, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds, many other breeds make wonderful service dogs. FYI, Tasha is a medical alert dog, she will alert me for high and low blood sugars as well as pending seizures.
5. Fake Service Dogs are a public safety risk!
As we learn about the incredible things service dogs can do and they become more visible, we also learn about the challenges that face our community in the form of fake service dogs. If you do not have a disability and if your dog is not task trained, it is NOT a service dog. Fake service dogs pose a great threat to the disabled community and to the public. They can distract or attack a real service dog team causing injury or death to the handler or their service dog. They damage public trust in legitimate service dog teams, and they can physically injure other members of the public. Service dog fraud is a federal crime and is punishable by a fine. You may be held liable if your dog causes an injury to someone else if you presented your dog as a service animal when it is not. Having a service dog is not a convenience so that people can take their dogs with them everywhere they go. A service dog is a tool that a disabled person uses to be independent where they otherwise could not be! In Massachusettes where we live, if you cause harm to Tasha you will be responsible for 100% of her medical expenses if she can not continue as a service dog you would be responsible for a trained replacement. That’s replacement would cost you $40 to $60 thousand USD.
6. The best thing you can do when you see a service dog is to ignore it.
When you are trying to work would it be distracting if people were trying to touch you, whistle or blow kisses at you? What if someone’s life depended on your ability to work and someone else did this? That is a reality that many service dog teams face. If you see a service dog, ignore it! No matter how cute the dog is, let the dog do their job. A distraction, even for a few seconds can be the difference between life and death. I’ve witnessed this at the Magic Kingdom when a woman, without asking, approached a service dog to turned it’s head and missed alerting her owner of an impending seizure.
7. There are only two questions that businesses and public entities can ask.
Is this a service dog that is required because of a disability?
What tasks is the dog trained to do?
They may not ask about the nature of the disability or request proof or documentation. The dog must perform at least one specifically trained task that assists a person with one or more major life activities that is limited due to their disability.
8. Businesses and other public places are allowed to ask that a service dog be removed in certain situations.
A service dog must be well behaved in a public location and under the handler’s control at all times. Service dogs must be parasite and odor-free as well. If they are posing a threat to safety with growling, biting, lunging, or jumping, or if they are relieving themselves inside a business such as a grocery store, then management can ask them to leave. If the dog is removed for one of these reasons, the business is still required to offer services to the disabled person without the dog present. Service dogs do occasionally make errors. The best way to tell them apart from fake service dogs is the owner (handler) will immediately correct the behavior team whereas a fake team doesn’t bother.
9. Dogs are the only animal recognized as service animals.
However, miniature horses are sometimes allowed in certain circumstances as long as the facility can accommodate the miniature horse’s type, size, and weight. They must also perform at least one specifically trained task to assist a disabled owner and are protected under the ADA. Other animals such as cats, reptiles, and birds would be considered emotional support animals and are not protected under the ADA.
10. Service dogs perform incredible tasks!
There is an ever-growing number of tasks that a dog can do. There are seeing-eye dogs for the blind and visually impaired; seizure alert dogs; hearing alert dogs; psychiatric service dogs that do tasks such as remind their handler to take their medication or assist their owner during a panic attack and guide them from a crowded room; diabetes alert dogs who alert to drops and spikes in blood sugar; dogs that pull wheelchairs, open doors, alert to allergens in food, and so much more!
Disney accepts service dogs at ALL Disney Destinations, Hawaii, Disney Cruise Lines, and all of their ports of call, require documentation for entry. We can assist you in providing all of the information you need to create a magical experience for you and your family!