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Registrations of Assistance Dogs in California for Identification Tags: 1999–2012


Dogs are filling a growing number of roles supporting people with various disabilities, leading to a chaotic situation in the U.S. Although the federal laws allow public access with working dogs only for people with disabilities, no governmental enforcement or management system for such dogs exists. Furthermore, there is no substantive way to confirm whether the dog is an adequately trained assistance dog or not, as neither the handlers nor the dogs are required to carry any particular certification or identification. Therefore, unqualified assistance dogs and incidents such as dog bites by assistance dogs sometimes are problems in the U.S. A governmental oversight system could reduce problems, but no information is available about the current uses of assistance dogs in the U.S. We aimed to investigate the current demographics of registered assistance dogs and the evolving patterns in uses of dogs during 1999-2012 in California. We acquired data on assistance dogs registered by animal control facilities throughout California. We used descriptive statistics to describe the uses of these assistance dogs. The number of assistance dogs sharply increased, especially service dogs, in the past decade. Dogs with small body sizes, and new types of service dogs, such as service dogs for psychiatric and medical assistance, strongly contributed to the increase. The Assistance Dog Identification tags sometimes were mistakenly issued to dogs not fitting the definition of assistance dogs under the law, such as emotional support animals and some cats; this reveals errors in the California governmental registering system. Seemingly inappropriate dogs also were registered, such as those registered for the first time at older than 10 years of age. This study reveals a prevalence of misuse and misunderstanding of regulations and legislation on assistance dogs in California.

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