07 April 2011

Access for Some

Service Dog owners more times than not, are people of limited means. Its the crux of life with disability. Some are able to get from under that and work lucrative jobs, but certainly not most. This is where programs that assist in costs of service dog care are so awesome.

Take for instance IAADP (International Association of assistance Dog Partners) This program works tirelessly to obtain resources for us- benefits from companies who care about our service dogs enough to provide their products free of charge or at a significant reduction of cost. During my tenure with Met, we benefitted greatly from some of these benefits- Veterinary Care Grants, Cosequin, boots from Ruffwear.These companies did not concern themselves with whether a team was from a national program with ADI qualifications, whether they were trained privately, or even whether they were owner trained.

Many years ago while I was still in California, the Assistance Dog Special Allowance discriminated against owner trained teams. Rather than providing you with the funds for your service dog, you were provided with a list of programs that qualified one to be recognized as a program trained dog that one could receive the benefits for. It was not right, but what could one do? Sue! And that is just what someone did. When the judgment came down, all the previously denied teams received an application. Many states have their own versions of the program in California, but unfortunately in Oregon it requires a person also be receiving careworker services- something that is prohibitive for me with my profound MCS and that would cost the state thousands of more dollars every year.  Now if I received SSI rather than SSDI then I would qualify outright just because I have a service animal.

Presently there is a program once more playing favorites- providing access for some, but certainly not all. ACVO and Merial Service Animal Eye Exam provides free eye exams for those from Nationally recognized programs. Service animals for the disabled from around the USA are one of the beneficiaries of this program. Others include Police Dogs, Search and Rescue and Therapy Dogs. Its a wonderful program if you don't happen to be partnered with an owner trained dog.

The claim of the program as to why they have this closed-minded approach  is that they were defrauded by individuals who claimed pets to be service animals. I find it rather interesting since I tried to register the very first year and was not allowed to. Registration happens a month prior to any actual service being rendered so how they can claim they were defrauded is beyond me.

As a circumvent around this, some with owner trained service animals have chosen to have their dogs registered with a national therapy dog group instead of banding together to help the organization running the program come up with a better way in which owner trained teams can be given the same and equal access as teams stemming from dogs trained by national organizations. If the organization realized just how much they are being defrauded under the category of therapy dogs by owner trained service animal teams, those too would most likely be eliminated from the program.

I don't dispute that fraud happens. Oregon has some of the most prolific service animal fraud in the nation with people claiming their pooch in their purse or their pet on lead does this, that, or the other thing. What I do have a problem with, however, is having a program that is supposed to assist service animal handlers in better providing the care their dogs need and not having any means in which a bona fide owner trained team can prove their dogs training. This has nothing to do with certification of service animals- a concept I am completely against. This has to do with being able to prove ones dog is what they say it is for the purposes of a program that team can benefit from. Ways for this to happen might include training logs, relying upon the vets in the program to recognize when an animal really isn't what the person says it is, or even allowing organizations such as IAADP to be participants in the program- something they presently will not allow for.

Some individuals in the service animal world, think those who owner train should essentially shut up and be grateful the program exists. Of course these people have a service animal from a nationally recognized program so they receive the benefit or they have the means to easily get such care for their service animals without even thinking about it. They can't see it from our perspectives because simply they don't walk in our shoes.

I have had to fight hard for every program, every benefit I get with my owner trained service animals. I get many of these benefits and assistance because I know how to fight the bureaucracy or because I get connected with the right individuals who help me do so. Some days I just wonder though if there ever will be *Access for All* (as the ADA calls for) in the same ease as there is this access for those with service animals from nationally recognized programs.

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