Saturday, December 4, 2010
EDITORIAL: We should all be nervous in the service dog controversy
Too bad for everyone, there really does need to be a law covering so-called “service dogs.”
Last week Aurora Sentinel reporter Sara Castellanos’ story about Vietnam veteran Allen Grider Sr. pointed out how complex the service-animal issue can be.
Grider owns a pit bull named Precious that helps him cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms caused by his time spent as a soldier in Vietnam in the 1970s. He’s had the dog since 2003 and says the pet is remarkable at sensing his stress level and interacting with him to make him feel better.
It was an emotional and heartwarming account. But there’s much more to the story. For almost five years, pit bulls have been illegal in Aurora and Denver. We have consistently agreed with many animal experts in that pit bulls and similar breeds have a strong tendency to be unpredictably vicious and dangerous. For the good of the public, which has been at considerable risk before the pit bull ban, it was important to restrict ownership of this and similar animals.
So when it came to the attention of the city’s animal control department that Grider has one of these dogs, they had no choice but to confiscate it until they could sort out what they could do.
Grider and a Denver man have since filed suit against Aurora and Denver, and the remarkably, the U.S. Department of Justice are taking their side.
Justice officials agreed that any dog that is trained to do tasks for humans would be classified as a service dog under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Justice officials say that cities or states can’t impose breed-specific bans on service animals, in essence saying that, a dog is a dog.
That’s dead wrong and deadly to boot. For the Justice Department to deem itself an expert in canine psychology, ignore undeniable statistics and research, or rule without even addressing pit-bull behavioral issues at all, is unreasonable and illogical.
Aurora’s law by no means discriminates against disabled Americans. Disabled Aurora residents can have the same dogs as can every other Aurora resident, but they must, and should, live under the same restrictions.
While Aurora’s determination that pit bulls are more dangerous than other dog breeds is certainly controversial and open to debate, the fact is that Aurora and cities and states all over the country are absolutely within their right to restrict what each community agrees is a dangerous animal. While the right to own a gun is protected in some sense by the U.S. Constitution, a right to own any beast you please certainly is not.
There are hundreds of pit bulls in Denver and Aurora that were grandfathered into the two cities’ pit-bull laws, and Grider’s dog certainly could and should have been included. But state and federal lawmakers need to intervene now.
The Obama administration’s decision in the matter points out two serious problems. First, given this logic, there’s no reason a service animal couldn’t be part or maybe all wolf, a burro or even a python. Given the Justice Department’s logic and vagaries, there’s no reason to believe that an argument could be made that any creature could not only be considered a service animal, but that local safety and zoning laws shouldn’t apply to anyone playing the ADA card.
In most cases, the public has little reason to worry. Most service dogs are chosen for their pleasing dispositions and extensively trained. But that clearly doesn’t have to be the case, and a well-publicized case like this begs could easily prompt pit-bull aficionados to feign disability to keep a potentially dangerous animal. It begs the questions as to what constitutes a disabled American, and therefore, who’s entitled to a service animal.
Federal lawmakers need to clarify just who is considered disabled under federal law and who’s not. And while it’s important that no state law put at risk the rights of a disabled American, it’s just as important that no disabled American put at risk the rights, life or limb of any other American. Wheelchairs aren’t allowed on interstate highways whether the passenger is disabled or not. Likewise, those with disabilities must live with the same safety restrictions as do we all.