The Impact of Stricter Guidelines on Service Dogs

Today’s guest blogger Bryana Peters studies animal science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. After graduate school, Bryana hopes to train service dogs, especially diabetic alert dogs like her own Labrador Retriever Leanna.

Bryana and Leana standing in front of a harbor

Leanna (left) and Bryana (right)

by Bryana Peters

If you were to take a screenshot of me right at this moment, I look entirely able-bodied. What the picture fails to represent is my pancreas failing me, my severe knee pain from a chronic pain disorder, my back aching from two bulging discs, and my left ankle swelling in my boot from complex regional pain syndrome, a disorder of the nervous system.

Many of my friends and peers are simply unaware of how difficult it is to exist with all of these disabilities. I have been in and out of hospitals since birth, had major back surgery when I was 16, and I experience a wide array of pain while presenting a picture of youth and happiness to the world.

Last year in June I started working with a service dog. Trained by Power Paws Assistance Dogs in Arizona, Leanna is primarily my diabetic alert dog, but she does light mobility work for me, too.

Working with a service dog has changed my life. She is my greatest asset when it comes to managing my multiple disabilities. She gives me much more independence and a sense of safety.

But here’s the problem: because I look able-bodied, I am often asked an assortment of borderline intrusive questions. Some examples:

  • Who are you training her for?
  • What’s wrong with you?
  • Well, why do you need the dog?

Having Leanna by my side has presented a unique set of complications, no matter our situations. Many assume I am faking it, regardless of how well Leanna is behaving. Gaining access to many locations, including airports, for example, is met with skepticism. I am allowed to enter, albeit begrudgingly, once I explain the law. From there, I am stalked with peering eyes looking for any chance of a mistake – either on my own part, or on Leanna’s doing.

Leanna asleep on a plane, tucked tight at Bryana's feetSo it is absolutely exasperating for me to see other individuals with small dogs barely in a heel, barking at my service dog as we walk into a movie theater. On a plane, Leanna is in a tight tuck at my feet (left), sleeping, while a dog wearing a service dog vest jumps on people and begs them for food. Later, I hear barks and whines from their general direction.

I fight hard to teach the general public about service dogs and all the incredible work they can do, yet it is often an uphill battle. People who believe that their pet needs to be by their side at all times jeopardize my own and Leanna’s health and well-being. Many assume bringing a pet into a store or faking disabilities is a victimless crime. That could not be further from the truth.

Those of us in the service dog bubble have heard about Delta Airlines new stricter rules concerning Emotional Support Animals and service dogs boarding their planes. Essentially, Delta grew tired of passengers presenting untrained pets as service animals, and now they’re cracking down. I understand their frustration — it is one I share with them wholeheartedly.

Those who are blessed enough to receive a service dog to assist us to navigate our unconventional worlds have yet more mountains to climb due to others selfishness. Leanna and I are just starting our adventure together. I can only hope that those of us with real service dogs can reach a clear understanding with those who do not have them as to what the laws and expectations are. I am grateful to be able to pilot this world with four paws by my side.

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  1. Barbara Pickett Says:

    Our family is beginning to really understand the true meaning of a service dog.
    My 3 year old grandson is autistic and is in need of a friend to help him play and live as normal as he can. He is non verbal, and recently was lost at his sisters soccer game. Of course being non verbal he could not answer or respond when everyone was calling his name and looking for him.
    we are so happy your friend helps you and we look forward to a friend helping our grandson if we ever are able to raise the amount of money needed to get a friend.

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