Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Service Dogs Helping With Invisible Disabilities (NBC9 News Colo.)

Service dogs helping with invisible disabilities

reported by: Paula Woodward , 9Wants to Know Investigative Reporter
written by: Amy Herdy , Investigative Producer
posted by: Jeffrey Wolf , Web Producer created: 1/2/2007 9:44:09 PM

KUSA - Michelle Penfold has a different answer when folks ask if they can pet her dog.

"I'llsay, 'Well if you'd like to pet my arm first, you're more than welcometo,'" Penfold, 40, said with a laugh. "Because that's how it is for me- she's a personal part of my body. And that's how I explain it topeople - and I say it in a nice way."

Penfold's 8-year-oldBorder Collie mix, Splash, is a trained psychiatric service dog, oremotional support service dog, a term most handlers prefer.

Forthe past four years, Splash has assisted Penfold, who has an anxietydisorder, by alerting her to the onset of an anxiety attack and calmingher during it.

While the use of service dogs for the blind andhearing impaired has long been accepted, the use of trained servicedogs for those with an invisible disability is only now on the rise.The Psychiatric Service Dog Society estimates there are 2,000 of suchdogs in the U.S., and the issue brings with it many challenges. Ownersof an emotional support service dog often face an array of questionsfrom a curious public about their dog, and can also encounteropposition from some service providers who mistake the canines forpets, and not working animals.

In addition, confusion aboundson whether emotional support service dogs are recognized under the law.In Colorado, where the law concerning service dogs is consideredoutdated by many disability rights experts, service dogs are allowedpublic access only for those with physical disabilities. This istrumped by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which allowspublic access for trained service dogs for any type of disability.

Asa manager of volunteer services at Exempla Good Samaritan MedicalCenter in Lafayette, Penfold takes Splash with her to work every day,and the two make rounds at the hospital. Penfold carries copies of theADA that include an 800 number to the U.S. Dept. of Justice ADAinformation line (800-514-0301). Both at work and out in public afterhours, she patiently explains to curious onlookers that Splash is not apet.

"And then they get it - and it's like, 'Oh, okay,' andthen that starts the dialogue about educating them about what a servicedog does," Penfold said.

It is not always that easy.

Ona recent trip out of state, Penfold said, it took more than an hour toexplain to the hotel staff that Splash was not a pet and that underfederal law, the hotel could not charge her extra for having Splash inher room.

The issue of access with an emotional supportservice dog is one that arises often. Legal experts say that anemotional support service dog, like any other working animal, isallowed anywhere their owner goes.

"The law generally supportsthat," said Tim Fox, a Denver attorney who specializes in disabilityrights. "The ADA has a couple of requirements. One is that the personis disabled and the second is that the animal constitutes a serviceanimal. But assuming those two requirements are met, then people willhave virtually unfettered access to all businesses."

As far as what constitutes a service animal, Fox said the ADA requires some level of training.

"Courtsoften try to distinguish between simply a pet and a service animal," hesaid, "and the biggest distinction that they look to is whether there'sbeen any training of the service animal."

This training, Foxsaid, does not need to be done by any kind of professional trainer, nordoes it require any certification or any documentation.

State law in Colorado, however, is different.

"Generallythe state law is pretty antiquated," he said. "It was written manyyears ago and hasn't been updated since then. And it is limited in itsprotection to service dogs and not other types of animals, and onlydogs that assist persons that are visually impaired, hearing impaired,or have physical disabilities."

For example, Fox said, "Underthe language of the statute as it exists right now, it would not applyto somebody with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," a disabilityrecognized under the federal law.

"Some states have better state laws," he added, "but Colorado's law really needs to be updated."

Becauseof a legal doctrine called preemption, Fox said, any time a federal lawconflicts with a state law, the federal law takes precedent.

"Soif the Colorado state law, for example, permitted a business owner tokeep out a service animal, but the ADA did not, the ADA would win."

Inaddition, Fox said, when presented with a service dog, businesses areprohibited from going into personal details of someone's life. They canask two things: Is this a service animal and what does it do for you?

Theowner does not have to provide any kind of documentation orcertification, he said, and the dog does not have to wear a vest or anykind of markings, although taking such actions can be a good precautionto prevent hassles, he said.

If refused service somewhere, Foxsaid, a service dog's owner can call local police but they will havelittle recourse to enforce a federal law. In such cases, he suggestedcalling an attorney.

Pat Schwartz, who owns Golden KimbaService Dogs in Lafayette, agrees that Colorado law regarding servicedogs needs to be changed to address emotional support service dogs. Inaddition, says Schwartz, who has been training disability dogs for sixyears, the federal law needs to be specific about what kind of trainingis required to constitute a service dog.

"There's no national standard," she said, adding that certain groups were working on one.

The61-year-old Schwartz, who is certified by East Coast Assistance Dogs ofHobbs, New York, has stringent standards for the certification of aservice dog, she said. Training of a disability dog typically takes twoyears, she said, beginning with socialization and extensive obediencetraining before specializing in the type of service the dog willprovide. Due to that intensive training, Schwartz said, she typicallytrains only three dogs in her home at a time.

To be certifiedby Schwartz, she said the dog and client must pass the Assistance DogsInternational public access test - and recertify under the ADI testevery year.

Schooling of these puppies ideally begins in the whelping box, she said.

"It'sgood to put things like balls of aluminum foil, metal spoons and keyrings in the box," Schwartz said, "to get them used to the unusualtaste of metal and not be shy of it" so that later, they will retrieveany object for their owner.

In addition, she said, tug toysare tied to the edge of the box to encourage the motion that will lateropen doors or pull an owner to safety.

When training a new dogwith a client, she will see that client once a week, she said, or twicea week if the client is retraining their own dog.

WhenSchwartz places a full trained dog with a new client, that client goesthrough two weeks of intensive training in their home, she said. Thecost for a fully trained emotional support service dog is $3,000,Schwartz said, while a fully trained physical disability dog can runfrom $5,000 to $7,000.
There are scholarships, endowments and grants available to help with the cost, she said.

The benefit, she said, can be immeasurable.

Schwartzsaid that services an emotional support service dog can provideinclude: Reminding an owner to take their medication, and bringing itto them; dialing 911 on a specialized phone in an emergency or giving abark alert during an emergency; lead the owner to safety if they arehaving a panic attack; help prevent crowding in public and alert theowner to a panic or anxiety attack, as well as comfort them during suchan attack

In addition, Schwartz said, the dogs bring the world to a person who is isolated.

"Aperson with severe depression has to get up out of that bed, has towalk that dog, has to feed that dog," Schwartz said. "They also have toleave the house to purchase the food for the dog. And we do not allowanyone to care for the dog except for the client who has bonded withthe dog."

There is one additional thing Schwartz tells all her clients to consider.

"Aperson who has a psychiatric illness has to realize that once theyaccept the responsibility of a psychiatric service dog--yes, they willhave tremendous love, and tremendous solace, and probably theirpsychiatric condition will improve," she said. "However, they are nolonger invisible. Everyone looks at you. Everyone looks at service dogswhen they're out in public."

That is a situation that Beverly Kondel and Debora Johnson both know first hand.

Thetwo women, both military veterans, met at the Denver Veteran'sAdministration Medical Center. Both are disabled under the U.S.government for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, caused by militarysexual trauma, and both women use trained emotional support servicedogs to cope with everyday life.

"If it weren't for her," saidthe 51-year-old Kondel, referring to her 8-year-old service dog,Jasmine, "I'd be living a life of solitude in my home, and having tomake appointments to get food in the house and waiting for handoutsfrom people to give me clothes because I couldn't go shopping. That'snot a fun way to live. Not at all," she said. "And she's changed thatfor me."

Johnson, 55, owns a 3-year-old Standard Poodleemotional support service dog, Stryder. She echoed Kondel's thought,adding that the women learn to cope with the extreme mood swings oftheir disorder in part for the sake of their dogs. They are mindful tokeep calm when confronted about their dogs in public by someone whodoes not know the law, Johnson said, because if they were to create anangry scene and be arrested, their dogs could be taken.

"Thesedogs help us keep our temper problems and our PTSD under control. Wehave to," she said. "If we love our animals and devote ourselves tothem the way they are devoted to us, we have no choice."

Kondel said the public reaction she gets to her dog is mixed, in part due to the fact that Jasmine is a Jack Russell Terrier.

"Youknow, most people are nice about it, but then there are some peoplethat just don't get it - and especially because she's so little," shesaid. "So it's really hard to make them understand that she really canhelp me. But I don't want to go into a long dissertation with astranger about what's wrong with me."

So, despite the factthat Jasmine alerts her to anxiety, reminds her to take medication andcalms her during a panic attack, Kondel said, she simply tells peoplethat her dog takes care of her.

To try and prevent questions,both Jasmine and Johnson's dog, Stryder, wear vests that say, "ServiceDog" at all times when they are in public, the women said, and theyboth carry copies of the ADA.

That has not prevented them frombeing refused service in Denver restaurants when accompanied by theirdogs, they said, and each has been hassled in other public places inthe Denver-metro area, ranging from airports to hospitals.

InSeptember, Johnson flew to Ohio to attend a funeral, she said, andalerted the airline and hotel before the trip that she would beaccompanied by a service dog. She also carried copies of the ADA.

Everythingwent fine, she said, until her final flight from Chicago to Denver onUnited Airlines. Forced to sit in a cramped area, her service dog,Stryder, finally stood up to stretch, and two off-duty flightattendants loudly protested his presence, she said, talking about thesituation in a derogatory way to other passengers.

"He had satthere for more than an hour, while the plane was delayed in take-off,"Johnson said, "not moving, and for 45 minutes while the plane was inthe air."

Since Stryder wears a full leather harness with ahandle to help Johnson walk at times, she decided to take it off duringthe flight so he would be more comfortable, she said. His vest, regularcollar and leash remained, she said, yet after the flight, she wastaken onto the concourse by other United Airlines staff and lecturedfor not making better seating arrangements and for taking off hisservice dog "markings."

Johnson showed them a copy of the ADA, she said, and asked for police several times, yet the staff would not call them.

"Itwas horrifying," said Johnson, who was in a wheelchair. "To be takenout to the concourse and lectured to, like I'm some kind of moron, andto be told the rules when they didn't even know what the rules were."

On September 14, Johnson filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

OnSeptember 15, she received a phone call from Judith Bishop, vicepresident for United Airline's customer contact center, who apologized.

"She was very friendly and sounded very sincere," Johnson said.

Yetthat apology was negated, Johnson said, by a letter she received inOctober from another United customer relations representative who saidthat United was not in violation of any laws during the situation.

"I still felt like I was being berated (by the letter)," Johnson said.
Contacted by 9NEWS, United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said she was very sorry about the way the situation developed.

"Wedidn't mean to re-offend her with the letter," Urbanski said, "andwe'll use this case as a training example for our crews."

In Kondel's case, the police were called, but they contributed to the problem, she said.

Whilevisiting a friend last year at the Denver VA Medical Center, Kondelsaid, she was told by a nurse she could not bring her dog into thehospital.

Despite explaining to the nurse that Jasmine was aservice dog, Kondel said, the woman called VA police. Kondel tried totell them that Jasmine was a service dog for her PTSD, she said, butthe police officer told her to leave.

A Sept. 20, 2005 VApolice report of the incident says in part, "The dog in question wasrather small, and was attached to a standard pet leash. The dog waswearing some kind of vest, however no service dog identifiers werevisible."

The report also stated that Kondel was asked for, and could not provide, certification for the dog.

Under the ADA, neither standard is legal.

Aspokeswoman for the VA said that at the time of the incident, VA staffthought that Kondel's dog was merely a "companion animal."

"It'scompletely within our policy to allow service animals," ChristinaWhite, a VA public affairs officer in Denver, told 9NEWS. "We're sorryabout the situation."


To contact Pat Schwartz of Golden Kimba Service Dogs, call 720-890-8278 or e-mail

For more information from the U.S. Dept. of Justice concerning service animals, go to

For the Psychiatric Service Dog Society, go to

For Assistance Dogs International, go to

For the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, go to

BS Ranch Perspective:

This is an amazing story, as well as being a very heart felt or onethat tugs at the heart strings, I am lucky to have my three Dogs get along all the time, let alone grab me a soda pop, from the fridge,or some kind of snack from the fridge without pulling a half apackage of cold cuts out for their own consumption. ha ha!

I know that the dog that is in the story went through a great deal oftraining before filling in as a part of the woman in the story's life.Then on the other hand the Woman would not have been anywhere if itwasn't for the love and nurturing that she had to take to bet used tothe dog. I mean, what if she was never around a dog, and didn't likethe fur, or was allergic to the hair and the dog fur all over the houseall the time I suppose that right, or was it the left, that she mighthave to grow to hate all over since that portion of her body isbringing her headaches and all kinds of cleaning issues! The furconstantly in her face and on the ground. Yet, they would have to cometo a Central understanding after all they had to work together, she washer left arm, the Dog did so many things that the woman was not able todo before without her, that the bad would definitely out weigh thebad!!

Take for example at my house my Three dogs are all the time constantlyfighting for the attention of the house people. They love their housepeople, and they will pick up a back of chips for you but don't expectto See the chips because some if not all of them will be devoured bythe dog, if not dogs! Well, if the one would be able to fight off theother two, the Bag of Goodies were all theirs.

Watching a show on the Television, called Cesar Melon has put some newperspective in the training of our animals, and his techniques are allpracticed over here at the Ranch, now even though I have limited use ofmy Right Arm, doesn't mean that we have our dogs trained to do anythingspecial for help as for as it goes, with any of the threePuppies, or now Doggies living on the Ranch here. In Fancy they aremore like Eye candy for the Ranch then they are for the Ranch, and theworld Wide Web, and Classic. They are my fun Living puppies, and well,I Love them so!!

BS Ranch.

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