While guide dogs and hearing dogs are a familiar site in public places, Helen Dolphin is concerned that growing numbers of untrained and badly behaved fakes could compromise the credibility of the real thing.
For over eight years I was accompanied everywhere I went by my assistance dog Yancey. Yancey was a grey Labradoodle and was able to perform a variety of different tasks from picking up things that I dropped to helping me off with my coat. She was pretty much a replacement for my arms and legs. Sadly she had a stroke last year and so has retired to my parents to live a more relaxed life in the country.
Yancey was supplied by the charity Canine Partners, which is one of seven charities in the UK who are members of Assistance Dogs UK (ADUK). The other organisations are Guide dogs, Hearing dogs for deaf people, Dogs for Good, Support Dogs, Dog AID and Medical Detection Dogs. All these charities provide and/or train dogs for deaf, blind and disabled people and adhere to the highest training and welfare standards as set out by Assistance Dogs International and the International Guide Dogs Federation.
However, it has come to my attention that there are some people who don’t get assistance dogs from one of these ADUK member organisations. Instead they just make a jacket themselves or buy one off Amazon to put on their pet so it looks like an assistance dog. There are even websites set up claiming to register disabled people’s dogs as “assistance dogs” without putting the dog through any kind of training.
Having attended a number of disability shows this year I have witnessed a number of these dogs with their homemade jackets pooping on the floor, barking non-stop, fighting with other dogs, having their feet run over by their untrained owner and jumping up at people.
Now I’m not for one moment doubting that these dogs help disabled people in some way, and they may have trained them to help with simple tasks, but a dog supplied by an ADUK charity has to meet numerous criteria. For example the dog’s temperament would have been thoroughly tested, it would be toilet trained, able to behave well in public and lie quietly under a table, be groomed daily and have its health checked regularly by a vet. Assistance dogs from ADUK charities are also covered by special insurance policies designed for dogs working in public. In addition as assistance dog owners we too are put through our paces to ensure we can work with a dog. The reason for all these checks is to ensure the dog is able to cope with being an assistance dog and carry out the tasks that it needs to do.
All dogs from ADUK charities are also afforded certain privileges under the Equality Act 2010. For example, we can take our dogs into public places such as supermarkets, airports and restaurants. It is for this reason that genuine assistance dog owners are becoming concerned by dogs that have just been put in a jacket without any official training. All that is needed is for one proprietor to have a bad experience with an untrained dog for them not to want to allow other dogs entry in the future.
Wendy Morrell, an assistance dog advisor, who is partnered with Udo from Dogs for Good has challenged one of the companies making “assistance dog” jackets: She said: ”A yappy homemade jacket dog was barking at my dog Udo in Poole Hospital. Office doors started opening and all they saw was Udo on the floor, and shut the doors again. I rang the company the woman bought the jacket from off the internet, she said she didn’t care what people did once they’d paid for the jacket and it wasn’t her responsibility. When I tried to explain it was her responsibility for selling the jacket she hung up on me!”
There is also a petition at the moment on change.org to allow non-ADUK dogs access to public places. In my opinion this would enable any dog which anyone claimed to be an assistance dog to go anywhere it liked. All that would need to happen would be a dog to bite someone, poop on the floor or eat a shop display for access for the rights of ADUK dogs and their owners to be called into question.
All ADUK dogs carry the same symbol on their jackets of a hand and I believe more needs to be done to raise awareness of this so proprietors are more welcoming of ADUK dogs but also confident to ask (nicely) if a dog they’re not sure about is from an ADUK member organisation. This way the rights enjoyed by genuine assistant dog owners will continue to be protected.