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Animals & Money: New ADA rules could make service animals more expensive

The Attorney General proposed some new updates wants to update the American Disabilities Act this month. The changes were greeted mostly as a boon--a potentially expensive one--to disabled people. One provision of the law actually cuts back on accomodations of people who use service animals.

The main problem with this law remains that some businesses feel like they can ignore it and exclude service dogs. I have a friend who is blind and lives in a building for the blind and a store across the street routinely harasses blind people with seeing eye dogs. We are not in some epidemic of bogus service animals, are we? The DOJ worries that we are. The proposed law claims there has been "a proliferation of animal types that have been used as 'service animals,' including wild animals." If an animal is under someone's care and control can it really be called wild? It's not like people are going into McDonald's with seeing eye deer or hearing raccoons, are they?

The new law will clamp down on animals that provide just emotional therapy, not specific physical services. That's fine. Some people were exploiting the rule--though hardly so many that it seems to warrant a federal crackdown.
The new law will also make it more difficult for animals who are not dogs to qualify for service. The law already requires that the animal "be individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability."

Again, seems like a non-existent problem. And it seems foolish to rule out species for service when we're just beginning to discover things like how dogs can smell cancer or detect seizures. Remember people were shocked when seeing eye dogs were first introduced. And they first thought only German Shepherds could do the job.

The list of organizations that train service animals from the Delta Society shows it's almost all dogs. But there are a few groups out there who are working with different species. Helping Hands offers service monkeys. They've been around since 1982 and have gotten support from the Veterans Administration. The monkey's hands help the paralyzed. There's also the Guide Horse Foundation, which trains miniature horses (less than 26 inches at the withers or shoulders). They're good for people who are allergic to or afraid of dogs.

The Department of Justice acts like these groups and their patients are just attention-seeking troublemakers, like the guy walking down the street with a boa. The real thing they're after with these alternative animals is longevity--and drastically cutting the exorbitant cost of training a guide animal. A guide dog costs more than $30,000 and the dog has to retire after a little more than a decade. The horses live to 25 or 35; the monkeys live to 20 or 30. Both programs are tiny now, but do have some potential. Since we taxpayers may end up paying for any of these guide services, I'd rather pay for the 35 year model. Even if it makes someone at the DOJ uncomfortable.

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