For many people across Texas, having a service dog to help them with their disability is a great tool, as well as a great companion. However, for some being out in public with their service dog doesn’t come without some sort of scrutiny.
Most service dogs are trained to help those who are deaf, blind or physically handicapped. But there are also those with invisible wounds or disabilities. For example; Veterans that suffer from PTSD.
In recent months KENS 5 has come across several people questioned and/or harassed about their disability because their service dog doesn’t look like your typical service K9, or because the person handling the dog doesn’t appear to be disabled.
San Antonian Carrie Ann Partch suffers from PTSD. She has a toy poodle named Bella who is her service dog. Partch claims she’s been harassed about her service dog twice this semester at the UTSA downtown campus, as well as at other places around town.
“I'm just trying to get through the semester without being harassed about my dog all the time,” said Partch.
Partch and other victims claim they are often told, "Well, anyone could put a vest on a dog.”
And that is true, so it leaves the question: What qualifies a K9 to be a service dog, and who does the certifying?
Sherry Saltice of Texas Hearing and Service Dogs in Austin said there is a state law and federal law, otherwise known as the Americans with Disabities Act. Regardless, nobody actually enforces certification.
Saltice said that is left to qualified organizations within the industry.
Either way, Saltice said a true service dog can be identified by the tasks they perform for their disabled owner.
“The dog has to have a learned skill or a behavioral task that it does that helps the person deal with their disability,” said Saltice.
So for someone in a wheelchair the dog might retrieve items. For someone blind, the dog might guide them. And for someone with PTSD, like Partch, her dog wakes her up if she’s having a nightmare.
Since it’s all about the dog’s trained tasks, a business can only ask one question.
“The business owner can ask the person, ‘How does your dog help you?’ They’re really not supposed to ask you what your disability is,” said Saltice.
Believe it or not, Saltice said it’s not just those with emotional disabilities being harassed in public at times. If a situation ever gets out of hand Saltice said it’s OK to call police.
“If they’re still denied access, they can call a police officer," she said. "In Texas it’s a misdemeanor which is on the criminal side of things as well as being on the grounds for a civil lawsuit."
And to be specific, any discrimination of a service dog in public falls under Chapter 121 of the State of Texas' Human Resource Code.