This past weekend, I was told by several people that I was lucky to have had Itzl for as long as I did, since anyone could claim a greater need and take him from me for themselves.
This is a rumor I want to nip right here, right now.
I can see how this rumor got started, and I am going to try to work my way through fact and rumor.
First, the foundation of this rumor is actually based in fact.
There are agencies that train service dogs and retain ownership of the dog regardless of who is using its services. The disabled people using these dogs are called "handlers" and if the agency wants their dog back and to give it to someone else, they are free to do so, regardless of the need of the person currently using the dog's services or the impact it may have on that person's life if they are deprived of the dog's services.
Most of these agencies are ethical and allow the dog to remain with the handler for the duration of the dog's serviceable life. For most dogs, that's between 5 and 8 years. When the agency determines that it's time for the dog to retire, they take the dog away and they don't always have a replacement dog ready for that person.
The puppy trainer gets first dibs on having the dog as a retired service dog pet. If the puppy trainer doesn't want the retired dog, it is put up for adoption. The handler is almost never given a chance to claim the dog and keep it. This is because the agency fears the dog will continue to try to work after its retirement - a valid fear. Dogs are workaholics. Even if the handler treated the dog as a pet and left it behind when they went out with a new service dog, the old one would feel diminished.
There aren't many agencies that do things this way. The handler is often given much more control over when the dog is retired, but they still have to give the dog up at it retirement.
The rumor, however, is saying it doesn't matter who or how the dog is trained or who owns it, if the dog is trained as a service dog, then it can be taken away at any time and given to someone else.
That part is totally wrong.
No one is going to come and take a service dog away from one disabled person in order to give it to some other disabled person. That's completely wrong.
If you self train your service dog, or you own the dog before, during, and after the training, no one can take it away from you. No one can come along and say, "Hey, I know a disabled person who needs a dog just like that. I'm taking your dog to give to them. Oh, you're disabled, too? Too bad."
There is no federal, state, or other government agency that determines the degree of worthiness for a service dog. There is no federal, state, or other government agency that decides just how disabled you must be in order to need a service dog. there is no federal, state, or other government agency that will take a service dog from one disabled person to give to another "more" disabled person.
It's not going to happen.
I don't know of a single disabled person who would take another disabled person's service dog for themselves, and no law allowing them to do so.
If you are disabled and have a service dog, that dog is yours until it retires or dies.
Unless the dog is on loan to you by a service dog agency, no one can take your service dog from you.
Those agencies that loan service dogs to disabled people are one among many reasons I prefer owner-trained service dogs. There's no question then on who controls the care and service of the dog. Owner-Handler is the way to go as far as I'm concerned.
Itzl and I have spent years building up our partnership. We know one another and the alert/response process between us is seamless and virtually invisible to people who don't know what to look for. Yes, sometimes it causes problems because Itzl is small and cute and fluffy and therefore he must be a pet in the eyes of many people. I get challenged a lot because of his cuteness, as if a service dog has to be ugly, or perhaps merely large. But to have him taken from me just because someone thinks someone else needs his training and services more? No. That isn't going to happen.
I depend on Itzl a lot. And Xoco, even if she is a stay-at-home hearing ear dog. I'm keeping an eye on Itzl's health. He's 7 now. As a Chihuahua, he has probably another 7 years of service in him minimum and maybe as much as 10. Hearing isn't as much of a physical strain on a dog as being a mobility dog is so hearing ear dogs have a much longer service life. In 5 years, I am going to start looking for a replacement for Itzl because by the time I find and train a new hearing ear dog, he'll be ready to retire. Then he'll become a stay-at-home hearing ear dog like Xoco and will keep her company (she's 2 years old now, 5 years his junior) and the new hearing ear dog will be my work and travel companion.
Unless your service dog is on loan to you, no one can take your service dog from you and give it to some other disabled person.