Service or Menace? Pit Bulls as Service Dogs

Pits in the news and info on Breed Specific Legislation.

Postby Marinepits » July 14th, 2010, 3:22 pm

http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/07/11/1 ... skirt.html

Service or menace? Pit bulls skirt law by being used as service dogs

A growing group of pit bull owners says the animals are ideal service dogs -- a designation that exempts them from Miami-Dade's ban of the breed, which some say is instinctively dangerous.

BY LAURA ISENSEE
lisensee@MiamiHerald.com

Brian Guadagno is rarely alone -- whether he dines out, shops for groceries or flies on a plane. His dog Doc stays by his side.

The 5-year-old, 35-pound service dog is a Staffordshire bull terrier -- a breed that, like pit bulls, is banned in Miami-Dade County.

Guadagno, 32, said Doc helps him contend with a lifelong learning disability that makes it hard for him to focus.

``We've never spent time apart,'' said Guadagno, who said he no longer needs medication.

A pit bull may seem an unlikely savior, given its reputation for powerful jaws, lock-down bites and aggression.

But Doc and Guadagno are among a small but growing group of pit bulls and their owners who are exempt from Miami-Dade's pit-bull ban, enacted in 1989 after an 8-year-old girl was mauled by a neighbor's pit bull.

Within the past year, Miami-Dade Animal Services has registered about half a dozen pit bulls as service animals for people with disabilities, in what investigator supervisor Kathy Labrada called an emerging trend.

Under federal rules, any guide or signal dog that is individually trained to assist someone with a physical or mental disability qualifies as a service animal.

Federal law trumps Miami-Dade's ordinance, Labrada said.

``We're seeing a trend in an increase of citizens that claim to have a disability and their pit bull is their service animal. That is a loophole that people have found,'' she said.

Labrada said it is a challenge to verify that a dog is a service animal because federal rules do not require any special certification for the animal. In addition, the Americans With Disabilities Act restricts the county from asking specific questions about medical conditions, she said.

Anyone can train a service animal under the federal guidelines. International standards recommend a minimum of 120 hours over six months for service animals, which can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars.

``There are certainly concerns that some individuals may claim an animal as a service animal when, in fact, it isn't,'' Labrada said.

Toni Eames, president of International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, said she had heard of pit bulls as service dogs, but had not encountered one or a program that trains them.

``There's a lot of fraud and there's a lot of legitimacy,'' said Eames, who is blind and has a golden retriever as a guide dog. ``The training has to be the standard.''

In Miami-Dade, pit bull owners can face a $500 fine and possible court action to force the animal's removal. The dogs are still deemed dangerous.

``They were bred to bait and fight bulls,'' Labrada said. ``If and when they bite, the potential for damage is extreme.''

Miami-Dade's ban covers American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers or any dog that matches most of those breeds' traits.

Other U.S. cities, such as Denver and Cincinnati, have banned pit bulls. Broward County does not have a ban, though at least two cities there -- Sunrise and Tamarac -- require pit bulls to be registered. Broward resident Larry Steinhauser, 57, said he would campaign for a countywide pit bull ban -- though Florida now prohibits laws against specific breeds. (Miami-Dade's ban was grandfathered in when the state law was passed.) A pit bull once lunged at him while he walked his dog. He also witnessed another pit bull attack, he said.


``I've never seen one that isn't aggressive,'' said Steinhauser. ``I feel they're a danger to society.''

Many love and defend the bully breed. One was the lovable mascot of the Little Rascals children's movie shorts of the 1930s, and the dogs later became the inspiration for local rapper Pitbull's fierce stage name.

On the national stage, celebrity chef Rachael Ray, who owns a pit bull named Isaboo, has advocated for the dogs. (Isaboo made tabloid headlines this year for reportedly biting the ear off another pooch.)

In Miami-Dade, Dahlia Canes directs a group fighting to overturn the ban. The group -- Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation -- was scheduled to join other advocates in Tallahassee for a rally Sunday.

Canes said many owners in Miami-Dade keep their dogs under the radar -- walking them very early or very late and finding veterinarians who won't report them.

``These dogs are extremely loyal and loving. The ban should be removed yesterday,'' Canes said.

Canes pointed to Ruby, a pit bull who recently visited Hialeah Hospital. Her owner, Pat Bettendorf, of Minnesota, found Ruby as an abandoned puppy and now considers her his service dog, assisting him when he experiences anxiety attacks.


Dr. Reinaldo Carvajal, who directs the geriatric unit at Hialeah Hospital, said therapy dogs can help patients, and said the pit bulls' reputation is not deserved.

``It's due to the fact that some people have used them for activities such as animal fighting,'' Carvajal said.

Pit bulls that strictly provide therapy still face Miami-Dade's ban. While they may support emotional well-being, they do not perform a service, Labrada said.

Not all agree that pit bulls make the best service animals.

``Service dogs need to be above reproach,'' said Janet Severt, founder of New Horizons Service Dogs in Orange City, north of Orlando, and who trains service animals. ``They need to be able to handle anything life throws at them.''

That could be the sudden boom of a car backfiring to a child pulling the dog's hair.

At New Horizons, Severt trains Labrador and golden retrievers as service animals, primarily for people with mobility problems or in wheelchairs, like herself.

She said the retrievers -- originally bred as a gentleman's hunting dog -- are eager to please. She said she disagrees with the ban, but would not train a pit bull.

``My problem with pit bulls is if they're in a fight they can do a lot of damage,'' said Severt.

Guadagno's companion Doc didn't start as a service animal. He said Doc has more than 100 hours of training and was certified in 2007 by the International Therapy and Service Animal Association. Guadagno registered the dog with the county last year.


Sometimes Doc stands on his hind legs and gives Guadagno a friendly pat with his paws -- a hug -- to keep his attention from drifting.

``It's really grounding,'' said Guadagno.

Miami Herald staff writer Melissa Montoya contributed to this report.

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Postby call2arms » July 14th, 2010, 11:41 pm

I've encountered as many nasty goldens as any other breed. People just talk through their hats.
I think it's fantastic that some people can actually own pit bulls through it being a service dog, but doing so without a disability to go around the law just makes the owners look like crooked people, which doesn't help the bad rap.
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Postby TheRedQueen » July 15th, 2010, 12:04 am

call2arms wrote: think it's fantastic that some people can actually own pit bulls through it being a service dog, but doing so without a disability to go around the law just makes the owners look like crooked people, which doesn't help the bad rap.


Well stated...:clap:

There is a fear now by businesses...they're afraid to confront anyone with a dog in a public space anymore due to lawsuits. There is a happy medium...you can't ask what the person's disability is but you CAN ask what the dog does for them...and they should have three tasks that they can perform...not that they have to do them right then and there. ;)

I was in Wal-mart the other day...a woman and her daughter were walking around and pushing a stroller with a pug puppy sitting inside. I went to the manager and told him that a dog was in the store..."Oh, it's probably a service dog". I'm like, "well it's a puppy and it's in a stroller". He says, "well, we have to assume it's a service dog." :rolleyes2: :mad2: Pissed me off...as we used to get stopped ALL of the time going in with Service dogs...now they're going the complete opposite way. I'm gonna start taking all of my dogs in the store, since it's obviously okay.
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Postby furever_pit » July 15th, 2010, 9:37 pm

It is not just Pit Bulls that are being improperly used as service dogs. I know of more shepherds and sport dogs that get a service vest slapped on them and taken places than anything else.

Miami-Dade is an odd place. They are all tough on Pit Bulls but in reality there are tons of these dogs there. So there are people hiding their dogs and getting around the law. It seems to me that as long as your dog is not doing anything wrong - like running around off leash or whatnot - that there aren't many repercussions. I was told this directly by several Miami police officers during a time when both Gator and Dylan were training extensively in Miami.
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Postby TheRedQueen » July 16th, 2010, 10:51 am

furever_pit wrote:It is not just Pit Bulls that are being improperly used as service dogs. I know of more shepherds and sport dogs that get a service vest slapped on them and taken places than anything else.



My old vet told me that he slapped a vest on his sheltie to fly with him... :rolleyes2: And I've got friends that put a vest on their JRT to get him into motel rooms without paying...(yeah, we had a talk about that).

Last time we checked into a motel for a flyball tournament, we said that Sawyer was a service dog, so there was no pet fee (the other dogs stayed in the van...it was November...temp was around 40). The checkin person said..."Oh, we have another room with service dogs...they checked in earlier." John and I were like..."wow, we didn't know any other flyball dogs were also Service dogs...". The person says..."yeah, they have five of them".

:shock: :shock: :shock:

:mad2:

Yeah...still haven't figured out who those people are...but they better watch out.
"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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Postby Hoyden » July 16th, 2010, 11:12 am

I see a lot of the great pretenders. They aggravate the crap out of me.

Business owners are really afraid to say anything, even when a dog is misbehaving in the store. I had to tell a manager of the BJ's in Waterbury that he could indeed kick out the dog that jumped into the cheese case because that dog was obviously disrupting business & was more than likely NOT a service dog.

I now have a bunch of flyers in a box in my truck that I printed off of the ADA website that tells business owners what they can and can not do and lets them know what under circumstances they can ask people to leave with their dog. It also has a phone number for them to call. http://www.ada.gov/svcabrs3.pdf

It boggles my mind that my self trained service dog is held up as an example of how a service dog SHOULD behave & work in public.
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Postby TheRedQueen » July 16th, 2010, 12:11 pm

Hoyden wrote:I see a lot of the great pretenders. They aggravate the crap out of me.

Business owners are really afraid to say anything, even when a dog is misbehaving in the store. I had to tell a manager of the BJ's in Waterbury that he could indeed kick out the dog that jumped into the cheese case because that dog was obviously disrupting business & was more than likely NOT a service dog.

I now have a bunch of flyers in a box in my truck that I printed off of the ADA website that tells business owners what they can and can not do and lets them know what under circumstances they can ask people to leave with their dog. It also has a phone number for them to call. http://www.ada.gov/svcabrs3.pdf

It boggles my mind that my self trained service dog is held up as an example of how a service dog SHOULD behave & work in public.


Yup, I find more and more business owners afraid to say anything! Drives me MORE crazy then when they were constantly trying to kick us out!
"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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Postby airwalk » July 16th, 2010, 4:03 pm

In my world just about every homeless persons dog is a service dog ... I have one licensing client that has 5 service dogs. They don't have to pay a licensing fee if the dog is a service dog. Additionally, they think it gives them some kind of legitimacy if the dog is registered with us as a service dog.

It's garbage way toooooo often. These folks are going to cause a major upheaval and then the folks with true service dogs are going to end up with a bunch of regulations to meet...because of these "pretenders".
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Postby Hoyden » July 16th, 2010, 5:11 pm

airwalk wrote:In my world just about every homeless persons dog is a service dog ... I have one licensing client that has 5 service dogs. They don't have to pay a licensing fee if the dog is a service dog. Additionally, they think it gives them some kind of legitimacy if the dog is registered with us as a service dog.

It's garbage way toooooo often. These folks are going to cause a major upheaval and then the folks with true service dogs are going to end up with a bunch of regulations to meet...because of these "pretenders".



FIVE SERVICE DOGS??? How is that possible? Does this person train service dogs? Do they have multiple people who need service dogs? Are some retired?

My understanding of the ADA via the attorney who helped me challenge my region's access policy for service animals is this: Only when the dog is with it's handler that it has been trained for is the dog considered a "service dog" and afforded access to places which a pet would be denied. If someone other than myself were to try to take Birdie into a store or restaurant, it would be breaking the law because a) they are not disabled and b) Birdie has not been trained to perform tasks that they are unable to perform themselves.

Furthermore, when a service dog is retired or no longer working, it does not have the same legal protection or the right to access that a currently working service dog has. That would mean that the owner must pay licensing fees. That's a real gray area as some dogs continue to work part time even after their handler has acquired a new service animal.

I would think that except for a period of time while the handler is transitioning from an older service dog to a younger service dog in preparation for the older dog's retirement having TWO service dogs would be questionable. I'd have to call the ADA on that one & check with my attorney for his thoughts on that matter.
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Postby airwalk » July 16th, 2010, 9:40 pm

Oh we totally agree with you, but the simple matter is we have a form hey fill out that indicates, it is their service dog and it provides a service that meets the criteria. If they are willing to sign it and say it is so...we cannot ask additional questions.
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Postby TheRedQueen » August 12th, 2010, 10:22 pm

We have three service dogs...Xander works for John in the house (but is essentially retired)...Sawyer works with him out in public, and Score helps at times with things that the other two are too small for (helping John pull himself out of bed). John considers them a SD until they die. Unless you're talking about his old SD, Charlie, who said..."take this job and shove it" and refused to work anymore...lol.

But if we're staying in a motel, we only claim Sawyer as the true SD, same with other things that require fees. However, we haven't licensed any of our dogs this year...oops...so that's a moot point.

As for someone else handling the dog...depends state to state. I take Sawyer out with me, as I'm considered a SD trainer...and have rights of access in MD (and in most other states too). I take him out in on-going bad weather when John doesn't get out much (too hot, too cold, too snowy), because otherwise he sits at home and rots. ;)
"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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