Autism assistance dog denied access

A news story about an autism assistance dog caught my attention last week. The story reported that four-year-old Jayden Qualls showed up at his California preschool with a new autism assistance dog and was denied access.

School officials said they need to determine if Houdini is a service dog or a companion dog. They also need more time to find out if the dog is warranted at the school and if so, how he fits into the flow. The Americans with Disabilities Act gives Jayden the right to have Houdini in school, Qualls said. Jayden’s parents bought Houdini for $13,000 from a nonprofit called Autism Services
Dogs of America.

In my What do autism assistance dogs do? blog, I questioned the high price autism assistance dog trainers are charging for these dogs. I still do question that. I use a Seeing Eye dog to get around safely, and although these dogs can cost up to $50,000 to train, the guide dog user is never charged that much. My first dog, Dora, cost me $150. Subsequent Seeing Eye dogs cost $50.

And though Jayden’s mom believes the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives Jayden the right to have Houdini in school, the jury is still out on that one. To qualify as a service animal under the ADA, a dog must be “partnered with a person with a disability and individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of that person.” Courts would have to decide whether Houdini performs tasks for Jayden or simply acts as Jayden’s companion.

However this all resolves, there is one last question just begging to be asked. Can a four-year-old take care of a dog? If not, who cares for the dog while the dog is at school with the child? You have to be at least 16 years old to train with a Seeing Eye dog— the Seeing Eye believes working with a guide dog demands a certain amount of physical, mental, and emotional maturity. In simple terms, you have to be mature enough to care for a dog.


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  1. Diane Ware Says:

    Isn’t part of the assist dog’s duty to keep the owner safe? ie the medical assist dog who warns of eminent epileptic secure? Or the guide dog-ensuring visually impaired that it is not safe to cross the street. It would seem that the dog who can ensure that a wondering child with autism remains in a designated area would be an assist animal or it that to broad a context?