That Time I Had Some Service Dog Thoughts

16 05 2021

Because we have special and medical needs in my family – like, a LOT of them – we’ve been home the last 14 months. We’ve had lots of things delivered, done lots of carry out, shopped once a week and as quickly as possible. We’ve masked up every time we’ve gone out. We’ve sanitized after leaving places other than home. I carry three different sanitizing options on my purse and we have sanitizing wipes in the car. I say all this so you believe me when I say we were very cautious this last year.

But because of the limited time out, we haven’t had a lot of trips out of the home with Bandit. We’re now at a place that we feel like it’s time to start adding things back in, like therapies, more shopping trips, dinners out, and church. And I’ve noticed a few things that I probably would have noticed sooner, if not for covid. I wanted to share those things with you, to help you incase you have the pleasure of encountering a service dog when you’re out.

  1. The rules, when it comes to service dogs and entering public spaces are pretty simple. Those at the location, may, if they feel the need to, ask only TWO questions; is that a service dog, and what task does the dog perform. That’s it. They’re NOT allowed to ask for a demonstration of the task, or about your medical needs.

Where it’s a little different, the airlines. They have slightly different rules that they just started implementing because the previous rules were being taken advantage of.

Exemptions: Churches are NOT required to follow ADA guidelines and rules. We have to rely on the people there to do the right thing and in Christian churches welcome and minister to the “least of these,” in the way that’s best for that person. Another exemption, people’s homes. They are allowed to deny entry to a service animal because it’s a private space. Other places might need some negotiation, like hospitals. I’ve had service dogs in the hospital with children and it was fine. But realistically, you wouldn’t expect the pup to be in an operating room with their person. Or expect hospital staff to care for a service dog if the owner is incapable. But, it’s very likely a family member can bring the dog to watch over his or her person.

2. The ADA does NOT require service dogs to be identified with vests or paperwork. In fact, the ADA does not even recognize certification papers you can buy online for a service animal – remember, people can only ask two questions, and asking for papers is not one of those questions.

I thought it was interesting that the pups are not required to wear vests marking them as a service animal. That vest is actually a courtesy to those around the dog, letting them know the dog is working. It also seems to really help Bandit know when he’s on and off duty.

And those papers you can buy…not necessary, but you’ve helped someone make some money. However, if you’ve got things going on that you need a service dog, you probably don’t want to spend money on something that not only isn’t necessary, but isn’t even valid and recognized by the ADA.

3. I’ve seen two sides of a coin. The coin itself is the, “that’s so cool! It’s amazing what animals can do,” coin.

I’m watching to see if there’s some kind of pattern, but sometimes, the “coin” is really cool, until it affects someone else. For example: A restaurant owner saying how cool service dogs are, but when it’s their restaurant the handler and dog want to dine in, its suddenly not so cool because they’re now facing something new. They might need to make different accommodations and do things a little differently. The really tired side of me, the mom trying to give my son some independence, really isn’t bothered that someone else might have to put in a little more effort or try something a little different, not when we’ve been doing this for YEARS for everyone else. And still doing it, even with a service dog, the pup just makes things easier. Also, this was a fictional example, not an actual experience, but we have experienced things like this. The other side of the coin, is the people who say how awesome it is, then welcome you in, regardless of the fact that the situation might need a little more work than typical. You can decide which reaction is heads and which is tails 🙂

4. We’ve been asked on more than one occasion if he actually needs the dog for xy or z, because some situations may require more out of the box thinking.

Here are some things to think about;

Service dogs are living, breathing pieces of medical equipment for someone dealing with physical or mental disabilities. In the context of medical equipment, would you ask someone in a wheelchair if they needed it because it was too inconvenient to make space for? Or should you ask someone, like my son, who needs medication to function well, if he needs to take it because you weren’t comfortable with it?

For JJ, Bandit stops panic attacks. Can stop elopement. Bandit helps him focus and be present so he can take in what’s going on, and follow directions better – which could easily be a safety issue. And asking the team to separate, could cause panic in my son AND his dog. Just like the wheel chair and the medicine in the examples above, Bandit helps my son have some independence he wouldn’t otherwise have. He helps JJ better enjoy his experiences and get something out of them because he’s not busy fighting anxiety, and believe me, EVERYTHING causes anxiety in this child. Bandit is the BEST thing for regulating JJ’s emotions so he’s not cycling through fight, flight, or freeze all the time.

Sometimes, new things make people uncomfortable – I completely understand, I live this – but when it comes down to it, medical devices, including service dogs, are there to balance a deficit somewhere and those situations aren’t about OUR comfort levels, they’re about making life better for someone else, specifically for someone who is struggling.

Flip side of this, service dog owners shouldn’t be jerks about it. This is something I need to watch for in myself because emotion has a way of taking over when I’m fighting for my children’s right to exist in a world that isn’t set up for them. But often times, misunderstandings can happen on both sides and a little bit of grace can go along way.

Hopefully this gives you something to think about, or helped you learn something new. Thanks for hanging in there with me 🙂

This post was a little heavy, so here’s some pictures 😀 Bandit and JJ ready for church this morning ❤

As always, here’s the Paws 4 Autism page if you’re interested in learning more about our organization.

And here’s JJ’s fundraising page. Most things in the store are currently available, like the mom hats, and we’re planning more things.

Thanks for stopping by


Alta and JJ



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