Tuesdays With Maui

Maui and I pose outside a shop with a sign in the window that says Service Dogs ONLY.
Maui is no ordinary Golden Retriever. She has VIP access to any public location, including restaurants and movie theaters. When she's caught sleeping in class, nobody minds.
Maui and I riding in a taxi.
As my Assistance Dog, Maui's job is to accompany me wherever I go. If I drop an object, she picks it up. If I need a door opened, she handles it. Because of her, I am able to lead a more independent life.
Maui in her geisha Halloween costume.
There are many rules Maui has to follow, and these rules can seem unfair to humans. But to Maui, the job is a game. She is rewarded for "tricks" and is allowed to be with her human all day long!
Maui sticking her head between the vertical blinds to see out our living room sliding glass door.
If there are no health or behavioral problems after the first year, the future service dog is moved to Paws with a Cause headquarters where it is matched with a client on the waiting list.
Maui getting her leash crossed with Lulu's while on a walk.
Maui is gentle and responds well to vocal commands, but she also has a lot of energy. This makes her a perfect match for me because I have limited upper body strength and I lead a very active life.
Maui with her front paws resting on the keys of a painted street piano in Denver.
Taking an adorable Golden Retriever everywhere with me has led to many interesting experiences. By sharing them with you, I hope to spread awareness of Service Dogs and issues affecting people with disabilities.

Two Questions Only

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Maui sits on my lap as we take a boat cruise around the lake in the evening sun.
On the boat with Maui the guard lion / service dog.
This October I will have had Maui for four years. In all of our time together, we have never had any serious problems with someone trying to keep us from entering a public location. Well, okay. There was that terrified taxidriver who told me Maui couldn't come in his cab, to which I replied that yes, she can, it's the law, which caused him to shout in a strong foreign accent, "Are you listening to me?! I told you I am very afraid of dogs"—no, he hadn't told me that, yet—"and I just don't want the dog anywhere near me! Okay?!" Poor guy. Goodbye cruel world, he was probably thinking. Someone please try to convince my children that death by service lion feasting really isn't such a painful way to go.

And then I suppose there was that hotel manager in Chinatown who told me, "Uh oh… you make online reservation, didn't you? Dis no pet friendly hotel." Then a guy who looked to be in his early 20s stepped in, the two spoke in rapid Chinese, and whaddya know, Maui is welcome to stay, and would you like to see my little dog? "Dis my baby!" (By the way, baby was throwing a massive growl-snarl tantrum, causing Maui to stick to me like Velcro.)

And there was that restaurant hostess (no accent this time) who asked me for Maui's papers, which, of course, I didn't have, but that was all cleared up after she talked to her manager. So I guess we have encountered minor hiccups, but nothing that has left us out on the curb shouting "discrimination!" and reaching for a cell phone to call a lawyer. And it's a good thing, too, because although I have always known that a person cannot be denied access because of his or her service dog, I had no idea whether or not someone is legally obligated to, for example, show documentation if it is requested, or whether a service dog is required to wear a jacket indicating that it is a service dog.

Then a few weeks ago, my lease manager asked me to provide documentation that my dog is registered with the city as a service dog, since pets are not permitted in our building. Ugh, that sounds like busy work. Maui was certified through Paws with a Cause, so, I reasoned, it should be enough to provide her Paws certification papers, right? I called Paws and asked.

Turns out, I don't even have to do that. Becky from Paws told me, "Actually, they are not allowed to ask you for documentation. They are only allowed to ask you two questions: is your dog a service dog, and how does it help accommodate your disability. That's federal law." She went on to explain why this makes sense: not everyone's dog goes through a certification process; that's just something training organizations do to ensure they are meeting certain quality standards. Plenty of people train their own service dogs and it's not required that they become certified. Service dogs are not even required to wear vests, but many people find it helpful to have clear signage.

"We provide our clients with ID cards, because it can be convenient to have them," said Becky. "You can offer to provide them with a copy of your ID if you want to, you don't have to provide anything."

I told my lease manager that I am not legally obligated to register Maui with the city or to provide any other form of documentation. If desired, I can provide a copy of our ID card once a replacement is mailed to me, I offered, but I suggested that he confirm that it is legal to even request such documentation in the future. Call Paws if you have any questions. In other words: no city paper work for me! Woohoo!

Originally I thought it made sense that businesses might be allowed to request documentation to make sure no one is smuggling in a non-service dog. I think sometimes businesses or their employees ask for documentation because it seems like it would be allowed in a world where you pretty much have to provide proof of ID for everything else. But it would be a huge burden on people with disabilities to have to carry that paperwork with them everywhere, and to set uniform standards for documentation would almost certainly make it more difficult to acquire a service dog or to train your own.

Anyway, there's not even a huge risk of anyone trying to pass a pet as a service dog, because the bottom line is that the dog must be well behaved or the business can ask you to remove your dog. No growling or aggression, no disruptive barking, etc.

That reminds me, did I ever tell you guys about the time Maui pooped on the floor in the lobby of the rather fancy Hilton Hotel in Chicago?