Monday, July 6, 2015

Service Animals, or Animal Service?

Deacon's Note: I've touched on this subject before (See To Serve or Bite). This time we explore it from yet another twisted angle.

We are on the front lines of mass transit. Soldiers behind the wheel, pilots of a 20-ton urban assault vehicle. When management makes a change, we're expected to not only inform the public, but also enforce these rules. We take the shots, the uppity-ups sit back and relax.

Our management recently fine-tuned its policy regarding Service Animals:

"All service animals traveling on a TriMet vehicle must: Be on a leash or in a container under its owner/handler's control and behave appropriately. [Cats] birds, reptiles, amphibians and rodents must be kept within an enclosed carrier or container. Must remain at its owner/handler's feet, or on owner/handler's lap. The animal is not to sit on a vehicle seat. And, must not be aggressive toward people or other animals. The care and supervision of a service animal is solely the responsible of its owner/handler. Customers traveling with animals are subject to the same general rules that apply to all passengers. Any damage or soiling caused by the animal is the responsibility of the animal's owner/handler. Operators may ask the customer if the animals is a service animal. Operators may refuse service if the animal does not meet the TriMet guidelines listed above."

Not much of a change, per se, except they made it easier for passengers to lie about their pets being "service animals". And lie they do. Not only do they lie about Fido's status, but they encourage others to follow their lead. "Just say it's a service animal," I overheard someone say on my bus recently. "Then they have to let you ride."

One operator recently suggested a rider's pet had to be in a carrier. Another passenger immediately began berating the driver about not knowing the rules. Poor operator was trying to tell the lady she could ride but had to keep Fido on her lap. Snobby Sally insisted on their getting off the bus and threatened to complain about the driver, citing his "attitude". We can't win, it seems.

This new wording encourages more deception from the riding public. Some people bask in the glory of giving us grief at every opportunity. Now, everybody's dog can be a "service animal", and even if they're not they can sit in their lap or at their "handler's" feet. Riiiight. I've seen people struggling to keep their dogs under control on the sidewalk, then drag them onto my bus and insist it's their service, or companion animal.

Just last year, an aggressive dog killed another passenger's smaller dog on a MAX train. If we allow an animal on board which in turn attacks another passenger and/or their companionable service-less mutt, are we then liable? We cannot predict the future, our hands are fairly tied when it comes to "enforcement", and we're trained to be non-confrontational. So by not allowing certain frauds on our bus, we can get customer complaints; if we were to allow Snarling Sid on the bus and he takes a chunk out of Snidely Sam's leg, we're in trouble for that too? Something smells bad here, and we're the ones choking on it.

Our federal government needs to fix the ADA rules. Not only should service animals be professionally trained, but they should have documentation to prove it. I love it when an actual service animal boards my bus with its human. They usually have a harness, and if a guide dog for the blind, a proper handle. Once inside, they lie quietly and act as they are trained to. Several times, I've had to ask passengers to make their counterfeit companions lie down and not bother folks. By doing so, I'm setting myself up for abuse, snide comments, or (God forbid) worse. Until the government cracks down and forces the issue, people will lie with abandon so Fido can accompany them on their rambles about town.

Sure, it's expensive to professionally train an animal. Yet those who actually need help from these wonderful helpers probably agree there need to be tighter guidelines. Until then, I don't feel safe when frauds bring their brutes on board and are coached by shady characters to be blatantly dishonest. But then again, I don't see our transit agency acting very concerned about our "safety".



  1. I Agree. Service animals should have papers. A bus driver should have the right to ask to see proof especially if they suspect the dog is NOT a service dog! The public thinks they can get away with anything. Maybe the first time Charming Snarl Face bites someone, the bus company should get sued. Then they would make stronger rules.. This is for public safety for crying out loud,

  2. We as drivers can ask by law what kind of service it provides and if its not what the ada recognizes as one we can refuse a ride.companions aren't one either is security protection.I question everyone of them to the extent of the law and 9 out of 10 are liars I know shocking right but if you notice summer time more pets are riding versus winter time makes you wonder why....and those same ones claim to be honored citizen but have no card to prove it.

  3. Since when are "birds, reptiles, and amphibians (!)" service animals?
    That policy is the finest example of the bureaucratic mindset, managerial division, since ours put out a missive that operators could be held accountable for improperly tightened lug nuts. Q: how can you tell unless the operator is provided with a torque wrench?

    As always Deacon, your writings are great reads.
    Now I have to go and find my companion Cane Toad. Licking him now and again gets me through my day without actually strangling a passenger ;-)