American Humane Releases Study on Service Dogs and Public Access, Leaders Meet to Discuss

October 5, 2016

American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization, released the findings of a new survey of U.S. retail employees measuring their experiences with, and perceptions of, customers with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) service dogs.

Harnessing the healing powers of the human-animal bond, specially trained PTS service dogs can offer vital and often lifesaving support to the estimated 14 percent of the nation’s service members and veterans who suffer from combat-related PTS, according to a press release from American Humane. However, the organization states that, though many people rely on these animals every day, there are currently no national standards or accepted best practices for the definition, training and credentialing of PTS service dogs—a void that creates obstacles for PTS veterans seeking access and reasonable accommodations for their service dogs in public places of business.

American Humane commissioned the new survey to gain further insight into the factors causing discrimination against veterans with PTS service dogs in retail venues, such as restaurants and shopping malls. Key findings include:

  • Seven in 10 employees surveyed feel at best “moderately informed” regarding the difference between service animals, therapy animals and emotional support animals, including more than one-fifth (23 percent) of respondents who say they’re “not informed at all”;
  • Over half of respondents (56 percent) said the visibility or obviousness of a person’s disability is a factor in their perception of the legitimacy of their service dog;
  • About two-thirds (69 percent) of respondents never or rarely (i.e. once every few months, or less than five times per year) encounter customers with PTS service dogs;
  • The vast majority of retail employees surveyed (69 percent) said they never received training from their employer on the questions they are legally allowed to ask customers to verify an animal is a service dog;
  • More than one-third (35 percent) suspected at least one customer in the last year of misrepresenting their pet as a service dog in order to gain entry to their place of work.

American Human stated the survey results suggest employees are ill-informed and unprepared to accommodate the unique needs of customers with PTS service dogs. Employees also question the credibility of people claiming their animal is a service dog, especially when those customers have no visible disabilities, as with many PTS veterans.

The publication of the survey findings coincides with the national gathering of professionals, hosted by American Humane September 21 in Washington, D.C., to address the lack of consistent national standards regulating the training and use of PTS service dogs. A diverse group of leaders—with backgrounds spanning service dog training, government affairs, veteran advocacy, mental health services, and the transportation and restaurant industries, among others—are attending the event with the shared goal of defining actionable next steps in developing national service dog standards. The Schultz Family Foundation and Mars Petcare are sponsoring organizations. Dr. Harold Kudler, chief medical consultant for the Veterans Health Administration, will also participate as a guest speaker.

“Our mission is to help ease the transition back to civilian life for those that have served,” said Daniel Pitasky, executive director of the Schultz Family Foundation. “We know that being able to have your PTS service dog with you in any situation is critical and our goal is to come out of the discussions today with a practical roadmap to make this possible.

Insights from American Humane’s new survey of retail employees informed discussions, with leaders meeting for a collaborative program emphasizing break-out groups and candid conversations across industry lines about collective strategies to improve access for veterans in public spaces.

“I credit my specially trained PTS service dog, Axel, with saving my life,” said Retired U.S. Marine Corps Captain Jason Haag, the national director of the Lois Pope LIFE Center for Military Affairs at American Humane. “He offers me vital support every day, and his presence is especially important when I’m in crowded and high-stress public environments. As a customer, I encounter regular scrutiny and questioning from employees, and, like many of my fellow veterans, I’ve been illegally denied service because of Axel. Our new survey suggests that low public awareness and a lack of basic employee training are contributing to this discrimination against veterans and PTS service dogs. American Humane is proud to lead ambitious new efforts, starting with our convening in the nation’s capital, to address these issues and establish national standards to improve access for veterans and their PTS service dogs, like me and Axel, in public spaces.”

“Our vision is to create a better world for pets—and we know that service animals are extra special and play a critical role in the lives of their owners,” said Brad Jaffe, vice president of corporate affairs at Mars Petcare US. “We’re proud to work with partners like those convening here today who are dedicated to educating the public about the role of these animals, and at the same time, advocating for policies that increase access to service dogs, thus improving veterans’ lives.”

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