Service animal or not? Disability rep weighs in on Tybee dog incident

Local News

TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) – Last week, an Atlanta family told News 3 they were roughed up and arrested by a Tybee Police officer because of their service dog.

Their story made waves online raising questions about what qualifies an animal as a service dog and whether the family was within their rights.

Arynne Keeley’s dog has a USA certification tag, but does that mean she’s a service animal?

“Ninety-nine percent of people with service animals know they don’t have to have any sort of certification any kind of print information or ID card,” said James Aberson, a coordinator with the Chatham County’s Americans with Disability Act (ADA) Office.

Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog or a small horse that is trained to perform a physical task for their handler. The task must be directly related to a person’s physical or psychological disability.

“A service animal is trained to do something physically,” said Aberson. “Whether it’s moving a person out of the way or getting between that person and whatever may threaten them psychologically or psychiatrically.”

This is different than an emotional support animal, which Saberson said simply serves as a comfort animal.

Keeley says Miley is a service animal and not just for emotional support.

“She prevents my emotional and destructive behaviors and I also have generalized anxiety disorder from other people,” Keeley told News 3. “So she’s supposed to alarm them to stay away from me.”

An incident report from the Tybee Police Department says a beachgoer reported that Keeley’s dog was being aggressive.

Aberson said legitimate service animals are rarely aggressive.

“It is very frustrating for people with disabilities — who have legitimate service animals — that there are so many people that pass their pets off as service animals just because they want to be able to take their pet with them when they go to a restaurant,” Aberson said.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has taken over the case and is investigating the officers’ alleged use of force.

The Keeley family tells News 3 they have an attorney and plan to press charges against the officer.

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