Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Service Animals in SF: Why is the Problem So Acute in the City of St. Francis?

Joe Eskenazi's article in the SF Weekly about abuse of the ADA in registering non-trained animals as service dogs raises more questions than answers.

It seems obvious that the common perception of a disabled individual is too limiting, and we must adjust the ADA in ways that can accommodate those with non-physical limitations.

But it also seems obvious that we must require stringent regulations on the animal--not the person--to prove that the animal is trained to provide some service without impacting others unduly. Even if that service is simply to sit there and look cute in a calming, reassuring way. Absent this regulation, we will impose on society more than we need to for this service, and people who already have a reason to not want dogs around--because they are allergic, or they are fearful, or just mean--will take action to limit access to all service animals.

But what isn't addressed at all, and is less obvious, is why in San Francisco, compared to all other cities mentioned in the article, has such a problem with abuse of the ADA registration process. According to Eskenazi:
San Francisco's tally of 500 service tags issued in 2008 dwarfs other California totals: San Diego, with nearly three times the inhabitants, issued only 352; Los Angeles, almost four times bigger, a scant 96.
So why is it in San Francisco we have so many service tags issued? Perhaps we have more people who are deserving of these tags, as the Bay Area is the birthplace of the disability rights movement. Perhaps our dogs are better trained--although this is belied by the statements from guide dog users in Eskenazi's article.

It seems likely it is a cultural issue around dogs, not the disabled. The SFSPCA, SF DOG, and the other self-appointed leaders of dog advocacy in San Francisco always take the self-centered approach to their dogs. After all, it is their right, as dog guardians, to do whatever they wish with the animal, wherever they please, or the dog's well being will suffer: or so the philosophy goes. Because of their general policy against any restrictions on dog access anywhere, they have perpetuated a culture where it is acceptable to game the disabled access system so we can have fido dine with us in Farallon.

We need to scrutinize and reject these philosophies. They undermine our ability to treat our animal charges with the respect they deserve, and ultimately denigrate the human-animal bond in the collective mind of our great City.