The Coalition of Assistance Dog Organizations (CADO)
By Debbie Grubb
An edited version of the following article appeared in the January, 2002 issue of DIALOG Magazine.
Guide dog users and assistance dog partners celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act with a very mixed bag of sentiments, ranging from joy and pride to real fear that the access rights that we celebrated might be drastically limited because of their blatant abuse.
For the membership of Guide Dog Users, Inc. (GDUI) the first nagging concern began with the well meaning but misguided plans of the Delta Society to train and place thousands of shelter and pound dogs as guides. The concern grew as we heard tales of poorly trained and controlled animals entering public facilities and transportation in the possession of individuals who behaved as though they felt responsibility neither for their animals nor to the Americans with Disabilities Act that they so glibly cited in order to gain entree into the public arena. Our concern grew even more as we heard tales of service falcons, cats, pythons, horses and, finally, a pig that proved to be a major problem to an air carrier and its passengers. GDUI was galvanized into action when we learned that there is now a school providing victims of crime with dogs "trained" to be menacing in situations that the dogs deem to be dangerous and/or threatening. A reporter who interviewed one of the schools students, an individual who had full ADA access with a protection dog although she had not yet completed her training, thought that it was very sweet that the dog went into protect mode when he saw store manikins dressed for Halloween. It takes about a quarter teaspoon of imagination to see all the horrible scenarios that could have played themselves out had that manikin been a child and all the other problematic situations that will occur as more of these dogs are placed and move freely about the country. Although facilities providing protection dogs to victims of crime have reacted to negative publicity of aggressive dogs being given public access with individuals ill equipped to control them by softening their verbiage to exclude the words "protection" and "aggression", the scope and results of their programs remain the same.
GDUI learned that the Department of Justice, (DOJ), plans to reopen these regulations as allowed under Federal law for their ten year review as a result of their escalating abuse. It became obvious to the GDUI leadership that if we did not do something, people who know nothing about how we work with our dogs would. It also became starkly, frighteningly clear to us that guide dog users would get no special dispensation because we were the first and have been successfully partnering with dogs since 1928. We, therefore, set about the task of building a coalition with the major players in the service dog arena to endeavor to formulate a plan of action that will protect the access rights of all ADA eligible service animal users while protecting us from those who jeopardize those access rights by abusing them. And thanks to the invaluable assistance of Jenine Stanley, GDUI Immediate Past President, Sanford Alexander, GDUI First Vice President, and the vision and openness and willingness of the leadership of those groups asked to stand with us, CADO was born.
On February 17 and 18, 2001, representatives from GDUI, the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, (IAADP), Assistance Dogs International, (ADI)and an observer from the Council of United States Dog Guide Schools met in Columbus, Ohio to discuss recent events in the world of service animals and the pending review of regulations within the Americans with Disabilities Act. Also invited but unable to attend was the National Association of Guide Dog Users.
As a result of this meeting, CADO created a Position Paper outlining our concerns about the integrity of the service animal movement that houses a definition of a service animal that clearly delineates the intent of the law as it stands today while removing the language that has opened the doors for its violation.
CFR 36.104 - Definition of Service Animal Revised to read:
Service animal means an assistance dog, and may include other animals specifically trained to perform physical tasks to mitigate an individual's disability. Assistance dogs include: guide dogs that guide individuals who are legally blind; hearing dogs that alert individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to specific sounds; and, service dogs for individuals with disabilities other than blindness or deafness. Service dogs are trained to perform a variety of physical tasks including but not limited to pulling a wheelchair, lending balance support, picking up dropped objects or providing assistance in a medical crisis. The presence of an animal for comfort, protection or personal defense does not qualify an animal as being trained to mitigate an individual's disability and therefore does not qualify said animal as a service animal.
The key to this definition is that a service animal must be trained to perform a physical task, that is, to perform a service, to mitigate a disability.
On Monday, April 16, 2001, CADO representatives, Joan Froling, President of IAADP), Jenine Stanley, Immediate Past President of GDUI, Debbie Gavelek, President of ADI, Melanie Brunson, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs for the American Council of the Blind, and I met with John Wodatch, Chief of the Disability Rights Section and Joan Magagna, Chief of the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Department of Justice. Jeanine Worden, an attorney with the Housing Section, a guide dog user and a real friend to GDUI, and other attorneys from the Housing Section were present. The formal portion of the meeting began with my presenting the basic principles of the CADO Position Paper with a detailed explanation of the Coalition's proposed language changes in 28 CFR 36.104. I made it very clear that these language changes were being proposed not in an attempt to alter the intent of the law but to make the intent clear and to enable enforcement of the law.
After the presentation of the Position Paper, I explained that CADO had requested the meeting in order to request four actions:
- An update of the Q&A Service Animal document that will clearly explain that A. guard and attack animals are not service animals, B. the animal must be trained to perform a physical task that mitigates a disability, C. access does not belong to the animal but to the person with the disability, D. this updated Q&A be disseminated with emphasis on the updated information.
- Any facility that trains attack and guard dogs for individuals with disabilities, physical or hidden, passing them off as service animals, be notified that they are in violation of the law.
- DOJ consider using the content of CADO's revised definition in a Notice of Proposed Rule Making for the revision cited above.
- The Housing Section consider creating a distinct category of Emotional Support animal that would be given the right to live with its handler to provide the emotional support required but would have no right to public access.
Melanie Brunson made an extremely important contribution to the process when she pointed out the CADO position that Therapy and Emotional Support Animals should not be confused with Service Animals as they provide no direct service to the individual to mitigate the disability. Their presence is not an active service provided by that animal that mitigates a disability. The paper authored by Joan Froling outlining many tasks that a dog could be trained to perform to mitigate a psychiatric disability was cited to further explain this very crucial fact.
John Wodatch described our solution to the service dog law abuse problem as ethical and very doable. We have his promise that before the end of this year the Q&A cited above will be updated and publicized. He explained that DOJ recognizes the problems stemming from the language in the current service animal regulations and intends to make the necessary changes to protect their integrity and to end their ever growing abuse. Mr. Wodatch explained that when the language was drafted ten years ago that no one anticipated that it would be so completely misinterpreted.
Since CADO's meeting at the Department of Justice, we have been working under the following constraints:
- New staff appointees are occupied with familiarizing themselves with the duties of their positions.
- The Disability Rights and Housing Sections are, therefore, conducting what is referred to as "business as usual". This means that cases, already in process and those demanding timely action, are being dealt with. "Changes", which is the category under which our request comes, will not be handled until staff is in a position to prioritize the work of the Department.
- The horror of September 11, 2001, has drastically shifted the priorities of the Department of Justice; but regulations due for review will be processed by the Department.
- CADO has done what it can and what it should at this point. We met, prepared a Position Paper, e.g. we "petitioned the government to act". The Supreme Court has ruled that the government will decide when and how it will act. This process will be slow; but action will be taken.
We are confident that the Service Animal Q&A document will be updated within the next few months. As we remain in contact with the Department of Justice and wait for it to act, CADO is publicizing its philosophy and work in preparation for the comment period that will come once the DOJ has moved on ITS petition. Within the next few months, the first in a series of PSA's educating people about the rights of and the partnership between people with disabilities and their service animals will be released. CADO will hold its second meeting in January, 2002, in San Antonio, TX, in conjunction with the conferences of Assistance Dogs International and the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. We will remain true and focused on our resolve to protect the rights of people with disabilities to work with their service animals as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. I am proud to be President of GDUI during this time in its history and proud of CADO and what this Coalition is accomplishing for service animal users throughout this country.