Service Dog Committee

I’ve wanted to post this entry for almost two months, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t share anything I wasn’t permitted to share..

A couple of weeks ago we were sent the minutes for the meeting and once they are approved, they will be publicly available.

Now that I have an idea of what kinds of things I can share, here’s my post.

The Canadian General Standards Board, Committee on Service Dogs is comprised of: organization heads, government officials, some academics, a couple of professionals (like a veterinarian), and then a number of general stakeholders, such as owner-trainers, disability groups and other service dog handlers.

Other than Rogue, there were about 11 other dogs. It was neat because even though there were 12 dogs in one room, you really didn’t notice any of them unless you happened to walk past and their handler told you to watch a paw or a tail.

Rogue and I sat beside a guy and his dog both days and neither paid any attention to the other. I was SO proud of my little red girl!

The first meeting started out with a video introducing everyone to what CGSB does and then each of the committee members introduced themselves. I had struggled all night to figure out what I wanted to say about myself, so I was ready and I don’t think I sounded too nervous.

Once all of the introductory stuff was done, the committee chair asked if anyone had questions. There were some of the usual questions about how this committee came to be and then about how long it would take for the standards to be developed.

As I had guessed, it was Veterans Affairs who initiated the process and who are funding the venture. The VA wants a set of guidelines to follow when deciding whether a veteran should receive funding for their service dog.

And, also as I thought, the standards are voluntary, so it is up to each individual province to implement them. This means that it’s not the big fix many people were looking for. As an owner-trainer, this news made me happy because it means that at least for now I don’t need to worry about Rogue not being able to perform her duties in public.

The process is supposed to take about 2 years, with about 6 meetings during that time.

Once people asked all of their questions, the chair asked us to start tossing out ideas for the scope of the committee. Not everyone understood what was meant by scope, so after about 20 minutes of less than helpful ideas, the chair gave us a definition and explanation.

I don’t remember off hand what was decided, but I do remember that we had 4 basic points that people felt were necessary to cover within the standard.

A discussion surrounding what terms we wanted to use in the wording of the scope description kept coming up, so the chair moved us in that direction.

The rest of the afternoon was taken up by a debate surrounding terminology. The discussion primarily focused around whether we wanted to use ‘service dog’ or ‘assistance dog,’ and ‘handler’ or ‘client’ or ‘user.’

Terminology has been a big part of my thesis research, so I sat back and listened to everyone talk, making notes as I listened.

The split seems to be between the industry people and the handlers when it comes to what terms should be used.

The industry tends to follow the language of Assistance Dogs International who uses ‘assistance dog’ as an umbrella term which then breaks into guide dogs, hearing dogs and service dogs. The handlers all seem to want ‘service dog’ because it’s the term that appears in most government documents and the one that is used in public.

From my research, I have to agree with the handlers because ‘service dog’ is the term I’m seeing used within the literature, unless the article is written by someone from the UK. As the discussion was selling, I put my hand up and said exactly that.

Once we had sort of settled on using ‘service dog,’ we moved onto debating whether we should be using ‘handler,’ ‘user,’ or ‘client.’ Of course, handlers didn’t want to be called users or clients, but those are the terms used within the industry. After some back and forth, the chair reminded everyone that the standards were mostly meant for government, so we need to use terms that are found within government documents.

It was at this point when someone suggested we form a working group to determine what terminology should be used and the definitions that should go along with the various terms.

The second day started with a quick recap of the scope we had come up with the day before. We then started to talk about what conditions a dog could help with and what types of service dogs there are.

This part didn’t go too slowly, we appeared to come up with a lot of good points, but then someone put out the question of whether we should be dictating what breeds can be service dogs. Thankfully, everyone agreed that it was a topic no one wanted to touch.

Then we moved on to the individual points under the scope.

the next big discussion came when we started talking about the training of a service dog.

This is when it got a bit heated.

To lower the temperature of the discussion, the chair suggested we just focus on the specifics and not on what types of training methods are acceptable or what equipment can be used.

As lunch approached, someone suggested that another working group should be formed to discuss training – GOOD IDEA!!!

After lunch, one of the industry people gave a speech on how they, and other ADI members, felt attacked. They very passionately voiced their opinion and strongly suggested people back off. I do agree that people seemed to attack ADI a bit too much in previous discussions, but I also felt as though a specific organization was getting attacked by not only individual members, but by other organization heads. It made me kind of sad because I don’t think any organization deserves the finger pointing, especially when the organization is being represented by one person, so to have almost 49 people (or feel like that many) pointing fingers at you, isn’t fair. I felt like saying something, but it wasn’t my place to do so.

The rest of the second day was taken up by a discussion of performance requirements and evaluation processes. It’s believed that the standard should outline what a service dog’s job is and provide an expectation of evaluation to ensure the team is working properly. I am personally not sure how you can decree what a service dog’s job is, but I do think it is a good plan to expect a certain level of evaluation.

I often wonder if maybe some of the supposed ‘fakes’ people talk about aren’t actually just service dogs who no longer do their job properly.

This is just a brief outline of some of the things we discussed and the debates we got into. If I find out where it is posted, I will post the link for the actual committee minutes.

I was assigned to the working group that is looking at terminology and definitions, yay!

Our next meeting is in February.

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