As a proud San Franciscan, I take great pleasure in disagreeing with the political leaders of the big red states, so it pains me – really-really pains me to have to publicly admit that I agree with Governor Abbott from the State of Texas on something. I know, there are a lot of “things” out there, and sooner or later we would have to agree on something – I just hoped it would be much later.
Recent legislation signed into law by Governor Abbott amends the Texas Human Resources Code to make it a misdemeanor to “intentionally or knowingly represent that an animal is an assistance animal or a service animal when the animal is not specially trained or equipped to help a person with a disability.” Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favor of those in need having assistance or service animals to help them. But like many, I am also amazed to see people claim that an animal is a service or assistance animal when the animal is not trained or equipped to provide assistance.
Now before you @me, I understand there are needs that are not visible or apparent and that there may be some awkward circumstances when someone has to explain the special training or equipment associated with the assistance or service animal. I also appreciate the distinction between a service animal and assistance animal. Many states, including California, have laws against falsely claiming a dog is a service dog. These laws, unlike the one in Texas, often do not extend to include assistance animals.
Also, before you think I’m alone in expressing these concerns. There have been law review articles on this issue, white papers written by those responsible for training service and assistance animals, articles warning that abuse of the system is on the rise, and articles written by advocacy groups asserting that fake service and assistance animals place those “with real disabilities at risk.”
I appreciate that, like many things, this issue requires striking a balance. When it comes to striking the balance between the need to ensure that the assistance/service animal label is not being abused or degraded in the eyes of the public, and on occasion having what might be an awkward conversation about the need for the same, I think (again it pains me to have to admit this) that Governor Abbott has struck the right balance.
Thanks for reading.