Letters from Our Readers: Animal Planet

by Penny Reeder

As the president of Guide Dog Users, Inc., I appreciated Patricia Marx's article ("Pets Allowed," October 20th). Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, it is legal to travel just about anywhere with guide dogs, and the lives of people with disabilities have improved dramatically. But recently our access has been compromised by the increasing number of untrained, often uncontrolled pets that illegitimately share the spaces we frequent with service animals. The other day, I heard about a guide dog that was attacked at a grocery store by an out-of-control pet that was misrepresented as an emotional-support dog. The incident resulted in an emergency trip to the vet, hours of worry, and cancelled travel plans for the disabled person. The beautiful guide dog was left with a disfiguring scar on its face. Such incidents happen frequently, and sometimes result in high medical bills and a significant loss of freedom for the owners who can't rely on their dogs for safe travel, causing them to miss work and to experience immobilizing anxiety. Excellent guide dogs may be forced into early retirement. When people misrepresent their pets, business owners become suspicious and hostile toward anyone who claims to be travelling with a service animal. The aim of my organization is to educate the public and advocate for legislation that punishes those who misrepresent their pets as service animals. Sixteen states have passed laws that define the misrepresentation of a pet as a service animal as a crime; we continue to petition across the country to make this a punishable offense.
Penny Reeder
President, Guide Dog Users, Inc.
Silver Spring, Md.