“If it wasn’t for one of these guys,” Dieguez says referring to his dog, “I wouldn’t be around.”
With the help of Paws 4 You Rescue, Dieguez trains shelter dogs to be serviceanimals.
“We’re giving them a role to play in somebody’s health,” he said.
He doesn’t just train them, he needs one, as well.
Dieguez suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“My PTSD stems from abuse when I was a young child,” Dieguez said.
Add in military service and more than a decade as a law enforcement officer, and Dieguez says he knew he needed help.
“That just intensified my fight or flight. And it usually went to fight. Dogs were the only thing that helped bring me down from all that fear and anxiety that I had,” Dieguez explained.
But Dieguez says it’s getting tougher to take his service animal with him in to public places.
He claims he’s been turned away from some businesses, and he’s not alone.
Recently, a veteran in New York with PTSD says he was denied service at a restaurant with his service dog.
“He told me he was not going to let me in here with my dog because he’s a sanitation risk and what if he bites somebody,” said veteran Brandon Ruzbacki.
The owner of that restaurant says a few days earlier, people wanted to dine with their family pets.
“I should’ve known the rules and I didn’t exactly understand the difference between the dog designations and what it means to be a service dog and now that I do I feel even worse,” said restaurant owner Philip Kinecki.
Psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Bober says he gets many requests for letters declaring a need for a service animal.
He thinks the different federal regulations regarding businesses, airlines, and housing cause confusion when it comes to service animals versus emotional support animals.
“I think people should have emotional support animals for a legitimate reason. But the situation has gotten totally out of control,” Dr. Bober said. “An emotional support animal is just a companion with no specific training.”
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.
Dieguez says people have asked him to train their family pets as service dogs even though they don’t need one.
He says he refuses every time.
“Just to make the dollar? My moral compass is a little higher than that. Because I know I need one. I don’t know where I’d be without one,” he said. “We’re being hurt. We’re truly being hurt by those not following these regulations and laws that are in place to protect us.”
Under current ADA guidelines, it’s illegal to require service animals be registered.
While some advocate for a registry for true service animals, others fear that could be used to identify people with disabilities and deny them healthcare, housing, credit or employment.