By: Jill Hightower

A person shouldn’t be afraid to get a service dog.

As I researched the internet to learn more about my daughters’ autism, I came across a site about service dogs for autism. I was fascinated to learn that perhaps a service dog could help enable my daughter to live a fuller life.

In the beginning I was elated to learn all a service dog would be able to help my daughter with. At first I found Service Dog Training Centers all along the east coast, but eventually would find a center near my home in Texas. During my research I discovered that the cost of a service dog varied greatly, anywhere from $10,000 to $22,000, but for all the centers, the first thing that had to happen was to apply for a dog, wait to be accepted, and then get on a list. Then the training of the dog would take up to a year or longer.

During this waiting period, I did more research to see what all I could learn about service dogs. The more I researched, the more fearful I became to add a service dog to our family. It was very unsettling to discover all the trials and tribulations a person with a service dog can go through. Even with our federal law to protect us, owners of service dogs are still today being turned away in restaurants, doctor offices, schools and many other public facilities.

I find myself very concerned about communities having an extreme need to put in place educational and awareness programs to promote the wonderful benefits that service dogs provide and to protect the lawful use of these incredible dogs. A person with disabilities already has to deal with their disability, and when in public they should be free from harassment, misunderstandings, and illegal access denial.

Fortunately, I have found a wonderful center for my daughter’s dog, My Service Dog, Inc. My daughter has been accepted to be on their ‘Puppy Program’, and we are now awaiting her puppy.  This organization goes beyond just the training of the puppy, but also helps teach us how to train, and helps us with businesses who illegallydeny us access. We are very blessed to have them, but there are many people with service dogs that don’t have this help. I feel it is of the upmost importance to establish community programs to educate businesses, schools and even individuals on service dogs.

If I am denied access with my service dog.  What can I do?

The following is a list of places where you can get additional help:

•Access to public places with a service dog and other rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):

Department of Justice at (800) 514-0301; TTY (800) 514-0383;


With community educational and awareness programs, literature could be posted in public places to help answer these and other questions for people with service dogs.

People are only afraid of what they don’t understand. By teaching communities about service dogs, it will make for a better place for everyone to live, and will teach our children to accept those less fortunate; people with disabilities, and their canine companions.




Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The revision became effective on March 15, 2011

Service Animals. The rule defines “service animal” as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The rule states that other animals, whether wild or domestic, do not qualify as service animals. Dogs that are not trained to perform tasks that mitigate the effects of a disability, including dogs that are used purely for emotional support, are not service animals. The final rule also clarifies that individuals with mental disabilities who use service animals that are trained to perform a specific task are protected by the ADA.

A federal law, the Americans With Disabilities Act, guarantees disabled people with assistance dogs access to public places—and requires those places to modify their practices to accommodate the dogs, if necessary.

“Public accommodation” means anywhere the public is invited or permitted—restaurants, stores, and theaters, for example. It also includes, among other places:

  • hotels and motels
  • schools
  • parks, golf courses, and bowling alleys
  • museums and libraries
  • shopping centers and grocery stores
  • convention centers and concert halls
  • doctors’ offices and hospitals. 4