Service animals said needed but many agree fraud issue has become real problem

LACONIA — When 4th Circuit Court Judge Jim Carroll ruled last week that a Laconia man would not be evicted from his no-pets-allowed apartment because his niece had a "comfort" cat, he may have touched on a growing controversy in the United States.

Carroll ruled that even though the apartment owners have a no-pets policy, a letter signed by a licensed clinical mental health counselor of Genesis Behavioral Health said she recommended a cat for her patient to reduce anxiety and depression and he ruled against eviction.

Genesis Clinical Operations Officer Celia Gibbs said Wednesday that her agency "is sometimes asked if (it) will write a letter and if we feel that it's appropriate, we will."

"It's mainly cats," said Gibbs who added that she thinks the number of letters Genesis has written is less than an handful.

"If a client comes to us and says this is a service animal, we respect this," she said.

Western Carolina University Professor of Psychology and author Hal Herzog, Ph.D said yesterday that the above case appears to be legitimate use of a emotional service animal but added that the scientific evidence supporting their use and effectiveness is inconsistent and unproven.

"The clinical trial data is not nearly as strong as some in the media suggest," he said. "If we make medical claims other than the placebo effect, we should hold them to the same scrutiny as medication."

He said there are no real national certifications and the ones that appear on-line are frauds, many of which he has reported as such to the federal government.

Herzog also said the proliferation of the "fake" service animal industry, primarily over the Internet, is angering those who specialize in the field — especially those who train dogs for legitimate fields as diverse as seeing-eye and hearing dogs to the blind and deaf to those who train them for high-level police and national security purposes.

"What the fakes are doing is not a legitimate field and they're furious," he said.

Technically, and according to attorney James J. MacDonald, who was writing for Working Like a Dog which is a Website for support of people with service animals, the U.S. Department of Justice rules on assistance dogs, which went into effect on March 15, 2011, say only dogs (and miniature horses in some cases) can qualify as "service" animals.

"'Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained' will not qualify," he wrote.

In addition, he said the dog must be specifically trained to work or perform a task for the benefit of an individual with a disability. McDonald also stated that the dog must be trained to assist the person with their disability or illness.

In New Hampshire, the Legislature passed a law (RSA 167-D:8) that became effective at the beginning of this year that said that a person who fits an animal with false equipment or tags or who represents an animal as a service animal is unlawful. The statute also strengthens the law that prohibits interfering with a legitimate service animal.

According to the Disability Rights Center, people with emotional disabilities have a right to have an animal in housing as long as the housing unit is owner-occupied and no more than three units, a written request is given to the landlord to waive the no-pets policy, and a letter from a medical professional supports the need for a service animal.

In April, the ABC News magazine 20/20 aired a story about how many people use these services as a way to be able to avoid paying extra fees to airlines to be able to travel with their dogs and to be able to bring them into restaurants and shops.

A rules change in 1988 from the U.S. Department of Transportation changed the rules surrounding service animal, paving the way for a more adaptive policy that some have found a way to take advantage of.

Canine Companions for — an agency that provides information and support to people who have service animals — has started a campaign to rally people against what it calls "service dog fraud". "When untrained pets behave badly, the people who actually need assistance dogs wind up suffering the most," reads its home page of the Internet. It asks people to pledge to stop abusing service animal registry sites, saying it diminishes the people who truly need their service dogs to perform actions that most people take for granted.

As to how effective owning a pet can be to assuage loneliness, depression and anxiety, Herzog said sometimes pets can create the opposite effect.

He said he gave a speech recently and asked the people in the room who were afraid or who didn't like a pet that belonged to a friend or a family member to raise their hands. "About one-third of them raised their hands," he said.

Herzog said he can think of one couple where conflict over their dogs led them to divorce and another case where a woman who relocated to a new city bought a dog so she wouldn't be lonely but never bonded with it.

He said people want to believe that pets make them less lonely, less anxious or less depressed but the data isn't there.

"The actual evidence doesn't match the hype," he said.

In closing, Herzog said that dogs and cats can ruin or enhance a person's life and people should take all of those factors into consideration before considering one.

'Free the Nipple' protest targets Labor Day weekend

LACONIA — An attorney representing Heidi Lilley of the Free The Nipple – New Hampshire has asked the City Council and the police chief to change the local ordinance prohibiting women from publicly displaying the nipple portion of their breasts so it complies with state and federal laws.

Atty. Dan Hynes of Liberty Legal Services sent the written request to Police Chief Christopher Adams with a courtesy copy to the City Council Thursday in part to notify them that the Free The Nipple campaign and Lilley would be coming to Weirs Beach over the three-day Labor Day holiday and "they could be topless".

"I have advised them that they may be facing arrest or a citation, but that we will zealously defend their actions in court while taking other appropriate action," said Hynes.

He said the ordinance "is essentially criminalizing being a woman and violates women's constitutional rights to equal protection under the law."

Free the Nipple is targeting Laconia because it said to be the only municipality in the state which has an ordinance that exceeds state law in that it prohibits publicly exposing the female nipple.
Passed in 1998, largely because the city hosts Motorcycle Week, the ordinance also addresses people who encourage women to expose their entire breasts. According to local police, there have been a handful of citations issued annually in the past five years.

Hynes asserts that Chapter 180 also exceeds state law in that because New Hampshire is not a home-rule state, meaning that municipalities only have such powers as are expressly granted to them by the legislature, the law is not legal.

He also said the it violates the Natural Rights clause of the N.H. Constitution and the N.H. and U.S. Constitutions as violating free expression and equal rights under the 14th Amendment.

Lilley said she doesn't want the Labor Day Weekend event to become a spectacle. She said all that will happen as far as her group is concerned, is coming to beach, having a barbecue, suntanning and enjoying what she hopes is a sunny and warm Labor Day weekend.

Mayor Ed Engler said he has spoken to City Manager Scott Myers about the possibility of the campaign coming to Laconia before he knew the exact date. Though he has not spoken to Police Chief Chris Adams, he said enforcement of the ordinance is a police matter.

When asked if he supports the ordinance Engler said he has "home rule concerns about the validity of (it)."

"We are not a home-rule state and I think the legality of the ordinance should be looked into," he said. "To my knowledge, nobody has ever challenged the ordinance on a home rule basis."

Adams did not return The Daily Sun's phone call.

'Lucky, Jr.' is honored guest at Profile Bank celebration

ALTON — "Lucky Jr.", the mascot at Sanborn's Auto Repair on Court Street in Laconia, is perhaps the best known dog in the Lakes Region, thanks to his frequent appearances in the company's ads in The Daily Sun.
He has fans all around the area and was the natural choice to be the guest of honor at the Profile Bank's ''Dog Days of Summer'' celebration which marked the 10th anniversary of the opening of the bank's Alton branch office.
The bank's office was decorated with dog-related items, with one full window dedicated to photos of "Lucky Jr." which have appeared in the Daily Sun, and employees at the bank grilled up hot dogs for customers, who were also invited to enjoy a piece of a birthday cake .
An affable English Lab, "Lucky Jr.", is also a registered therapy dog according to his owner, Ginny Sanborn.
She says that he will be three years old on October 1 and that she feels lucky to have acquired him after the death of the repair shop's original mascot, "Lucky".
''Everybody loves 'Lucky'. He's a well adjusted dog who loves being around people,'' says Sanborn. She says that a phone call to Michigan in an attempt to find an English Lab led to her being referred to a person from Nashua who was an English Lab breeder.
''He had already been sold to a family but the girl thought he was too big so they brought him back and took home his sister,'' says Sanborn.
''This has been a match made in heaven,'' says Sanborn, who handles advertising and public relations for the auto repair business and is no stranger to the news media, having appeared on the Nashville Network Show in 1996 hosted by Katie Haas in which she was New Hampshire's representative in ''America's Ultimate Cowgirl'' competition.

"Lucky Jr.", the mascot at Sanborn's Auto Repair in Laconia, was the guest of honor at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Profile Bank's branch office in Alton on Friday. Taking part in the event were "Lucky's" owner Ginny Sanborn, Tina Toutain, teller and customer service representative at the bank; Tonia Cardinal, assistant branch manager and Scott Littlefield, market manger for Profile Bank. (Roger Amsden/ for The Laconia Daily Sun)