A year and a half ago, my mom met Ronnie, her diabetic alert service dog. My mom has had Type 1 Diabetes for almost 50 years. She experiences no symptoms before her blood sugar drops unexpectedly. Her insulin pump can sound an alarm if her blood sugar levels drop, but mostly she relies on Ronnie’s keen scenting skills to recognize a change in her blood sugar level. He alerts her by barking, minutes before her insulin pump catches it.
Ronnie saves her life at least once a day.
Recently Ronnie needed some tests. So, we headed off on a road trip to a veterinary hospital a couple hours away. At nearly every restaurant we stopped at, staff told us that Ronnie was not permitted. My mom would politely inform them that he was a service dog. And they would usually reply that there was nothing they could do. So I’d pipe up as pleasantly as I could to say that Ronnie is protected under a federal law. And if that didn’t work, I’d ask, “Have you heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act?” Only then would they look a little scared and invite us in.
Service dogs are hardly new. And you’d think most people would know about the ADA. (Of course, I learned how many places actually do not pay attention to the law when I broke my foot last year.) Also, I notice when I’m with Ronnie and my mom, we have to constantly tell folks that they cannot pet him. (I know it’s difficult, his fur is so soft!)
So I want to offer a friendly Public Service Announcement about service dogs:
- Service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are not required to wear a service jacket. It is acceptable for staff to inquire if the dog is a service animal and what duty the dog performs. It is not acceptable for them to ask about the disability of the owner or ask for the dog’s ADA identification papers.
- Pass on the petting. When a dog is in public with its partner, it’s working. Ronnie gets plenty of love when he is at home and off duty. Trust me.
- Service dogs are permitted to go all of the places their human partners can. If you run a business, you cannot ask someone to remove her service animal from the premises unless the dog becomes unruly or is not house broken. (If a service dog is trained to perform duties to detect scents undetectable to humans, I can assure you that dog has been trained to pee outside.)
- Services animal have been trained to not only detect insulin drops, but thankfully can serve to help individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy and depression.
Have you had experience with a service animal that would be helpful for others to know?
Elizabeth McBride is the director for intergenerational programs and editor of Café. She is also pretty confident that she is Ronnie’s second-favorite human.
Photo: Beth’s mom and her service dog, Ronnie