Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Daniel Ruth: When is a service dog not a service dog? It's getting hard to say

Eleanor Rigby gave birth to puppies at Airside F in the Tampa airport while her owners were preparing to board a plane to Philadelphia. [Emily Nipps, Tampa International Airport]
Published Jun. 5, 2018

Maybe what all the hub-bub goes to prove is that one person's service animal is merely another's little sweetums, cuddly boo-boo dog. And stop drinking out of the toilet! Now!

It was certainly a lovely, pulling-at-the-heartstrings moment when Eleanor Rigby, a cute-as-the-dickens golden retriever, unexpectedly gave birth to eight — count 'em, eight — bouncing puppies of joy in the middle of the Airside F at Tampa International Airport a few days ago.

Needless to say Mom and proud papa Golden Nugget missed their flight to Philadelphia. And all of us dog lovers went, altogether now, "Awwwwwwww!"

Alas, since the birth of the pups, a bit of a controversy has erupted over what exactly constitutes a "service dog"?

Eleanor Rigby and Golden Nugget's owner Karen Van Atter insisted the two hounds were indeed service dogs, although she admitted to Tampa Bay Times reporter Christopher Spata that neither canine had come from a specialized breeding program for service animals, nor had they been trained by an accredited service dog handler.

PREVIOUS COVERAGEWhen a dog has puppies at the airport, opinions abound

Van Atter said the dogs were supposed to be able to detect drops in her blood pressure. And maybe they do. Or maybe they don't. But the incident at TIA does underscore the often murky world of what constitutes a service animal.

There was a time when the issue was fairly evident. Nobody would begrudge a blind person using a seeing-eye dog to help them navigate the world. So, too, it would not be odd for someone with an obvious disability like using a wheelchair to rely on a trained service dog to assist in daily life.

But in recent years, the term "service animal" has taken on a much broader definition. We've all seen people claiming to need a service animal to help them deal with allergies, or mental health concerns.

And that has led to airports resembling a collection of Noah's Ark-esque critters as people boarding their flights with iguanas, or peacocks, or llamas claim their animals are essential to their emotional stability, even while that hedgehog is nibbling at your peanuts in the middle seat.

To be sure, the service animal industry has become rather vague. The New Yorker once published a piece about how easy it is for just about anyone to obtain a piece of paper from some rather dubious sources attesting to someone's absolute need to be able to travel with their python service animal.

In Van Atter's case, the feel-good nature of Eleanor Rigby's delivery of those adorable puppies was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that groups such as the International Guide Dog Federation, Assistance Dogs International and Southeastern Guide Dogs say dogs who are not spayed or neutered can never be used in service.

The problem is a big, blurry gray area.

Van Atter described Eleanor Rigby and Golden Nugget as not only her service dogs, but her pets, too, which among the organizations that work with providing and training service animals is a huge no-no. These dogs aren't supposed to be considered pets in the traditional sense of the term but working animals.

One could argue that certainly all dogs labor in the service of their owners, providing comfort and companionship and loyalty. You know that old saw about how no matter how bad a day you've had, or how many people might hate your guts, at least your dog is happy to see you walk through the door.

Gracie the Goldendoodle and Riley, the spawn of Satan Labradoodle, certainly are service dogs to us by enhancing our lives, except when Riley decides to start chewing on the television remote control. He has ... mischief issues.

But there is no way we would ever attempt to foist them off as service dogs to get them on a plane. There's probably a law about interfering with a flight crew by licking them into submission.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The Howard Frankland Bridge, which connects St. Petersburg and Tampa, is a leading symbol of regional unity.
    Organizations that rebrand themselves should have a regional mission that reflects the name.
  2. The White House says it has chosen President Donald Trump's golf resort in Miami as the site for next year's Group of Seven summit.  (AP Photo/Alex Sanz, File) ALEX SANZ  |  AP
    Monday’s letters to the editor
  3. Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o has written a children's book called Sulwe, about a girl who "was born the color of midnight."[Photo (2014) by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP] File photo
    Most white people have never heard of skin lightening cream or the “paper bag test,” where your fiance can be no darker than a paper sack. | Leonard Pitts Jr.
  4. Ayana Lage, 26, and Vagner Lage, 27, pose with a sonogram of their unborn child. Ayana writes openly about going through a miscarriage due to the baby having a rare genetic defect. She wonders why more women don't discuss their miscarriages. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Sunday’s letters to the editor
  5. Kreshae Humphrey, 26, applies ointments to the skin of her 3-year-old daughter, Nevaeh Soto De Jesus, after bathing her in bottled water. The parents bathe all three of their girls with bottled water because they believe the children were sickened by the tap water at the Southern Comfort mobile home park off U.S. 19 in Clearwater. The family is suing the park's owner over the issue, but the owner and the state say there are no problems with the drinking water there. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    The story of a Clearwater mobile home park and its water issues reflects a systemic breakdown.
  6. A long stretch of US 98 remains closed for repairs in Mexico Beach on Friday, September 27, 2019, almost one year after Hurricane Michael made landfall in the small coastal town. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Time is running out, so let’s get practical, says Craig Fugate
  7. FROM PRINT: Adam Goodman, national Republican media consultant
    Sure, fix capitalism’s flaws, but a wealth tax is not the way. | Adam Goodman
  8. 
 CLAY BENNETT  |  Chattanooga Times Free Press
  9. A view of the downtown St. Petersburg skyline and waterfront from over Tampa Bay.
    The news that the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation wants to change its name to include “Tampa Bay” has been met with resistance.
  10. Catherine Rampell, Washington Post columnist.
    Allegations of political cowardice can seem rich coming from candidates unwilling to acknowledge the obvious truths about things such as higher taxes. | Catherine Rampell
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement