CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The increasing number of service dogs near the Fort Campbell Army post has outpaced public awareness about the animals.
The Leaf-Chronicle (http://leafne.ws/12B0QWb) reports two problems have surfaced when soldiers take the dogs out in public — lack of awareness about laws and abuse of the laws that do exist.
The issue came to a head recently when a deacon at a Clarksville, Tenn., church recently asked a Fort Campbell soldier to tether his psychiatric service dog or take it home. The deacon said he was confused about the purpose of the dog.
Leah Patterson, who trains service dogs for soldiers returning from war with post-traumatic stress disorder, says the animals can help with all sorts of disorders that aren't immediately apparent, including traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, diabetes and autism.
"A service dog is not just a well-trained, obedient dog," said Patterson, explaining the Americans with Disabilities Act definition. "It has to be able to do at least three tasks that help a person with whatever their disability is."
At Patterson's business, Total Canine Care in Clarksville, combat veteran J.D. Sagely, who suffers from PTSD, recently demonstrated with his dog, Cinnamon, what a trained service dog should do and how it should act.
The dog is trained to wake him from nightmares, turn on the lights and refocus his attention when his anxiety increases.
During a "temperament test," the dog shows no signs of aggression.
"A service dog," Patterson said, "is not a 'protection dog,' and it can't respond like a protection dog."
Patterson said service dogs can be any breed and size, but dogs used for therapy or emotional support don't qualify as service dogs under the ADA definition.
She said service dogs are often confused with others, sometimes intentionally, as people take advantage of loopholes in federal and state regulations.
Patterson said ultimately, the only way to identify a service dog is its training.
Kyria Henry of North Carolina-based Paws4vets says there aren't any federal or state regulations to train service dogs, but there is a push for such measures.
"Most reputable organizations at this point have decided to join ADI (Assistance Dogs International) as a coalition for that 'proof-positive' that we are meeting minimal standards," Henry said. "It's not a requirement, but we are moving that way."
Information from: The Leaf-Chronicle, http://www.theleafchronicle.com