Should Service Animals Be Funded Through SSDI?

We recently explored how to fund the adoption of a service animal. These animals are categorized as dogs that provide a needed service by the ADA, but they aren’t directly funded by any state, local, or federal organization. Disability benefits are dependent on a person’s needs, but requiring a service animal to perform day-to-day tasks doesn’t necessarily mean a bigger benefit share? …And isn’t it time we changed that?

Social Security Disability Insurance (or SSDI) pays for a person’s expenses when they cannot work or their ability to produce has been effectively reduced because of a disability.

There are other reasons that the government should pay to provide service animals to the disabled. Because the government doesn’t actually provide these animals, there isn’t much oversight. Anyone can train a service animal without a license or certification — and that means a breeder can sell a “trained” service animal without actually training the animal at all. This leads to lawsuits. Regulation would reduce unnecessary litigation. 

When private organizations help the disabled obtain service animals, other issues can arise. One Overland Park man sued Starfleet Service Dogs, Inc. when they took back his wife’s service dog when he was widowed. Starfleet told an Ohio court that they did take the dog, but argued that because they are now all in Maryland, the court should have no jurisdiction to rule on the case. The plaintiff has to wait for the decision, which has not yet been made.

Judge Brad McCall said that both parties would submit further evidence. Jamie Hunter represents the widowed man, and said, “After that time, the Court will decide (1) whether Iowa has jurisdiction; and (2) whether Tootsie should be returned to Paul while this matter is pending. Tootsie has never lived in Maryland. It is our position that, at a minimum, Tootsie should return to her home with Paul in Kansas while this court process plays out.”

Hunter argued, “Tootsie is not simply a piece of property that should be passed from person to person across the country.”

The widower stands a good chance to lose the case because his wife had paid Starfleet nearly $150 per month to train and care for the dog. And he didn’t immediately give Starfleet the dog, either. When the company said they were sending someone to pick up Tootsie, the man told the company’s representative they were locked down due to COVID-19 and not to come. 

When he was forced to bring Tootsie to a veterinarian because of ear problems, it was only an hour before someone from Starfleet arrived to take the dog — and the vet’s policy allowed it because Starfleet was named as the payer on the account. And Tootsie was taken. 

Putting service animals on SSDI could prevent litigation like this, ensuring that service animals could be retired when already placed in loving homes. Then again, the federal government could just do its job — and submit legislation to prevent instances like these.