A petition is being circulated by Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) and seems to be supported by other service animal training programs to ban the online sale of service animal gear. The following response is the official position of the National Association of Guide dog Users (NAGDU) concerning this effort.
I am writing on behalf of the membership of the National Association of Guide Dog Users (NAGDU), a division of the National Federation of the Blind. We are aware of the effort to ban the sale of service animal gear and identification over the internet and disagree with the assertion that such sale proliferates the use of what the advocates of such a measure refer to as “fake service animals”. We are writing in opposition to this petition. The text of this petition can be found by visiting
As the representative voice of guide dog users for the largest organization of the blind in the United States, it is our opinion that the fundamental premises of this effort are flawed and restricting of the sale of such products is not in the best interest of those of us who use service animals. While we agree there is a widespread problem with those who falsely assert their pets are service animals which needs to be addressed, we do not agree that the action requested is the equitable resolution. This correspondence will outline what we believe are the inaccuracies of this effort and offer suggestions to better address the issue.
We believe the references to “fake service dog gear” and “a loophole in the Americans with Disabilities act” are fallacies of circular cause and consequence. It is not the gear nor any loophole that presents the problem; rather, the problem we face are those individuals who deceitfully assert they are disabled and their dog is a service dog in order to secure the access afforded to individuals with disabilities accompanied by service animals. More accurately, the problem is that many individuals mistakenly believe that the rights of an individual with a disability accompanied by a service dog are absolute and entities are defenseless to restrict such access, even when the dog is poorly behaved. We believe this misconception is held by both disabled individuals who use service animals, as well as those perpetrating the deceit.
NAGDU supports the current implementing regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act contained in 28 CFR part 35 & 28 CFR Part 36. We believe the regulations are very clear and would oppose any revision to those regulations that would be more restrictive. In particular, we support the regulations that do not require documentation as a precondition for access. NAGDU has a number of members who have owner trained their guide dog and, therefore, do not have access to the sort of documentation issued by formal training programs. In our opinion, it is the practice of such training programs that promulgate the problem, rather than resolve it. These training programs, when issuing their documentation that the animal they have trained is “certified”, advise their consumers that the presentation of such documentation helps to resolve the access issues they may face. Although this may be true for that person, it further serves to complicate such access for someone who refuses to present such documentation, as well as those who have owner trained their service dog, Both of which are congruent with the current regulations. When one person presents documentation to an entity, it leads the entity to believe that all service dog users will have such identification and be willing to present it. Though it may be true that some official-looking identification card with the consumer’s picture and that of their service dog sometimes helps the individual, it is equally true that anyone with a computer can create a similar official-looking identification card to facilitate access with an untrained pet. Perhaps the Department might consider following the illogical conclusion of the online petition and ban training programs from issuing documentation.
Another illustration of misinformation being promulgated in support of this measure states, “Legitimate service dogs require years of expert training to perform specific commands like picking up dropped items and opening doors that benefit people with disabilities”. Though such an assertion may make for good public relations and fund raising campaigns, it is patently false! Though it is true that service dog training programs have their own internal processes for certifying their trainers, what is untrue is that it takes such experts to train a service dog. As already mentioned, there are a number of people who have trained their own guide dogs who would not consider themselves “experts” and these dogs are just as well trained as any you would find from a formal training program. Neither does it take years to train a service dog. In fact, a review of the websites of programs involved in the training of guide dogs – widely agreed upon to be the most high level service dog work in the field – asserts that it takes about 3 – 6 months to train a guide dog. If we take into consideration that one guide dog trainer has a string of several dogs they are training, the actual time it may take could be much shorter. It seems that the intent of the Department was to allow for owner trained service animals, based upon its implementing regulations defining the term “service animal”.
Another problematic issue with the request to restrict the sale of service animal gear over the internet is the danger of making such gear proprietary to the training programs. Most training programs retain ownership of the gear they issue during training. As such, these training programs reserve the right to repossess the gear at any time and for any reason. This practice lends itself to a great deal of abuse by training programs through custodial and paternalistic interference in the lives of their consumers. There have been a number of instances in which a training program has repossessed gear without cause, leaving the disabled person temporarily without the benefit of their service animal. In these cases, the ability to purchase their gear from a third party doing business on the internet allowed them to continue to use their service dog, in spite of the unjust interference of a paternalistic training program. Likewise, many of us who have received our service dogs from formal training programs often opt to purchase alternative gear, such as lightweight washable nylon harnesses, gear of different colors, and designs that are better suited to the individual. Some of us even have several harnesses we have purchased in different colors to match our wardrobe.
The National Association of Guide Dog Users believes that. instead of banning the sale of service animal gear on the internet, a far more effective approach would be to better educate entities about what constitutes a service animal and their rights and responsibilities under the law as it pertains to an individual’s access with their service animals. We believe many entities may be hesitant to deny access to a person claiming protection under the ADA when the dog is ill behaved for fear of reprisal from the individual and accusations of discrimination. We further believe the real threat to our access is not the proliferation of service animal gear and unnecessary documentation; rather, it is the poor behavior of these dogs in public – service animal or not. It would also serve society well to better educate those who use service animals of their responsibility to maintain control over their animal’s behavior and that their right to be accompanied by a service animal is not absolute. We believe that supporting entities when they assert their rights, demanding that individuals who use service dogs act responsibly, and educating the public about what constitutes a direct threat and unacceptable behavior would better protect the rights of all concerned.”
The National Association of Guide Dog Users will continue to utilize our resources to disseminate accurate information about the rights and responsibilities of service animal users and those of public entities. If you have any questions, need additional information, or would like to solicit further input on this or other issues from a large consumer base, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.
With kind regards,
Marion Gwizdala, President
(813) 626-2789 (Office)
(888) 624-3841 (Hotline)