Make sure your dog guide, hearing dog or other service dog counts. The Service Dog Census Project is conducting a count of all service dogs in use in the United States, starting on June 9. It is the first public census of service dogs.
Eighteen years after the U.S. Department of Justice passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which ensures the rights of disabled people to access public areas with their service animals, many still have to educate the public about their rights and the need for their service dogs. Blayne Douglas, who works at a deaf counseling, advocacy and referral agency in California, often runs into acceptance problems with his hearing dog. “The lion’s share of my day is educating the public about the use of hearing dogs. I’m always surprised by the number of people who think only guide dogs for the blind count as service dogs,” said Douglas. “I’ve even experienced doubt by business owners who hesitated in providing us access because they didn’t understand.”
The Service Dog Census Project and the United States Service Dog Registry are working to change that. The Registry offers free service dog registration through a central online database. This allows service dog owners to register their animals and receive a unique ID number. A look-up feature allows others to securely verify the registration status while protecting the medical privacy of the individual.
The purpose of the Service Dog Census Project is to provide detailed statistical data about the large number of service animals currently working in the United States. The data can be used for various positive purposes including advocacy, media references, university studies and public support. “The response has been phenomenal,” said Marc Battaglia, executive director of the project. “Even during our beta-testing phase we had people registering from New York to California. We’ve received emails from people thanking us for initiating this project.”
The census is open to all service dogs and their handlers, regardless of certification or training status. Individuals using a service dog for any disability covered by the ADA qualify for this count. (Please see (www.ada.gov/animal.htm) A service dog is any canine trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. Therapy dogs and other working dogs provide many great benefits but are not covered by the ADA law and therefore not eligible to be included in the census.
The United States Service Dog Registry collects the data for the Service Dog Census Project. To participate in this census please go to usservicedogregistry.org.
The Service Dog Census Project is looking for help from the news media, bloggers and other individuals to help get the word out about their efforts. There are also several affiliate membership levels available at censusproject.org/affiliate.
The Service Dog Census Project is headed by Battaglia who leads the four-person team in his spare time. Battaglia is the associate creative director for an advertising agency where he works with his German Shepherd, Indiana, by his side.
Battaglia was diagnosed with epilepsy in 1999 after suffering from it since childhood. “I don’t really like to talk about it, and that’s part of what is important about how this registry and census are being conducted. It’s private,” he said. . “You shouldn’t have to explain your medical history to everyone.”