Friday, May 02, 2008

NYPD: Monkeys And Snakes Are Service Animals, Too

Article from NewsDay
That monkey on the subway? Illegal in New York City, but not if the owner has a disability. The guy with the snake on the bus? Leave him alone. He needs it for emotional support. The New York Police Department Patrol Guide, a thick and getting thicker collection of rules and regulations, has been amended to let officers know that guide dogs for the blind are not the only creatures considered service animals -- and to give them a better understanding of which straphangers and bus riders are allowed to have members of the animal kingdom as riding partners.

Now, according to the Patrol Guide, it is not just the blind who can have service animals, but those afflicted with epilepsy, heart disease, lung disease and other medical conditions, namely those who say they need an animal to provide them psychological reassurance.

Service animals are capable of picking up items dropped by their owners, signaling for help if their owner suffers a seizure or collapses, and even working to calm those prone to panic attacks or afflicted with other forms of mental illness. Also allowed to have service animals in the transit system are professional trainers getting their animals ready for the day they will be assigned to someone with a disability, according to an internal NYPD memo. The Patrol Guide revision was made to "clarify the department's obligations under the Americans With Disabilities Act," the memo says.

The problem, however, is that under terms of the act, those with an animal on the subway or buses are not required to carry paperwork proving their disability or proving that their animal is, indeed, a service animal. That, in turn, has led to some cases of fraud, police sources say, with at least several officers reporting they've encountered riders who they suspected had no other reason for having an animal with them other than the fact they like having their animal with them. The NYPD would not elaborate on the Patrol Guide revision, a spokesman said, adding only that the guide is routinely updated. But Becky Barnes, a manager with Guiding Eyes For The Blind, a Westchester dog school that trains canines to work with the blind and visually impaired, said it is not uncommon for people to try to pass off exotic animals, such as pythons, as service animals. Typically, she says, such a claim is little more than a scam. "But," she says, "more and more doctors are writing prescriptions for people needing dogs or other animals for emotional support."

No comments: