Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Federal Judge Slaps Injunction on Cab Company Refusing to Carry Woman with Scooter and Service Dogs

On April 9, 2013, Melodie and James Doud got into the line for a taxi at the Reno Airport.  The first available taxi was Yellow Cab Co. # 132, driven by Mohammed Parvez, who declined to let the Douds into his vehicle, saying that it was not equipped to transport people with physical disabilities.  The Douds were traveling with a motorized scooter which Melodie Doud needed, having lost a leg to cancer. They also were also traveling with two service dogs.  The second taxi in the line was another Yellow Cab, and this driver also refused to take the Douds, alleging that his religious beliefs forbade him from transporting their service dogs. (According to one court document, the driver said to them: “I’m not taking you because you have dogs, dogs are dirty and it is against my religion to transport a dog.”) 

A third taxi, from the Whittlesea Company, also refused to carry the Douds.  James Doud then flagged down an airport police vehicle.  The officer approached the fourth taxi in the line, another Yellow Cab, the driver of which agreed to transport the Douds.  This took 45 minutes.  Almost lost in the details of the case was the fact that James Doud was himself an employee of Yellow Cab and may have lost his job because of the action he took against his employer in this matter. 

Just over a month later, on May 19, the Douds were again at the Reno Airport and again encountered Yellow 132, still driven by Mohammed Parvez, who again refused to take the Douds, this time saying it was “against the law,” despite Melodie’s assurance that her scooter would fit into the taxi.  The scooter breaks down into five pieces, the heaviest of which weighs 50 pounds.  (The picture of the scooter here is from a manufacturer’s document filed with the court.)  James Doud then called a supervisor at Yellow Cab Co., Mukesh Sharma, who agreed to pick up the Douds.  The Douds also called the airport parking authority and the airport police, and the police found a taxi for them, though the Douds chose to ride in Sharma’s taxi when it arrived.

Complaint Filed

The Douds described these experiences as “humiliating, discouraging, demoralizing, and maddening.”  On May 21, 2013, the Douds filed a complaint with the Nevada Transportation Authority, which determined that Yellow Cab had violated Nevada Revised Statutes 706.361, which provides that persons with disabilities are entitle to full and equal enjoyment of facilities of public transportation, which applies to “any common motor carrier of passengers.”  Yellow Cab appealed the decision.

The Douds also sought a preliminary injunction to stop Yellow Cab from refusing to give them service in the company’s standard taxis.  To obtain a preliminary injunction, a plaintiff must establish (1) he or she is likely to succeed on the merits, (2) likely to suffer irreparable harm without such relief, (3) that the balance of equity is in the plaintiff’s favor, and (4) that the injunction would be in the public interest.  A trial court is given broad discretion in deciding whether to grant a preliminary injunction.  

The federal district court for the district of Nevada determined that a preliminary injunction was appropriate because the Douds were likely to succeed on a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act, they would likely suffer harm unless the cab company’s refusal to serve them was stopped, the injunction would not burden the cab company, and issuing an injunction requiring the company to accept disabled passengers would be in the public interest. 

The court noted that regulations under the ADA, 49 CFR 37.29, specifically mention taxi services, providing:

“Private entities providing taxi service shall not discriminate against individuals with disabilities by actions including, but not limited to, refusing to provide service to individuals with disabilities who can use taxi vehicles, refusing to assist with the stowing of mobility devices, and charging higher fares or fees for carrying individuals with disabilities and their equipment than are charged to other persons.”

Yellow Cab argued that it had offered the Douds a reasonable accommodation by asking them to ride in vehicles equipped for disabled passengers who use motorized scooters.  The company had a practice of referring disabled customers to a sister company, Reno Sparks, which has wheelchair-adapted vehicles that can transport the entire scooter with the passenger, without any need for disassembly.  The court noted, however, that making Yellow Cab accept disassembled scooters placed no undue financial or administrative burden on the cab company.  Also, James Doud could lift each piece of the disassembled scooter by himself, so there was no need for Yellow Cab to be concerned about its drivers lifting heavy equipment. 

Prior Taxi Dispute

This is not the first time, and is not likely to be the last, that a taxi company has refused to provide services to a customer with a service dog.  In 2003, a dispatcher for the Yellow Cab Drivers Association, Inc., sent a driver to a department store in Salt Lake City.  Upon being pointed by store employees towards a blind woman with the guide dog, the driver turned and left (DOJ Complaint 202-77-34).  Responding to the woman’s complaint, the Department of Justice stated that Yellow Cab is in the business of providing transportation services to members of the public and is covered by Title III of the ADA (42 U.S.C. 12181(10) and 28 CFR 36.104.  

As part of the settlement, Yellow Cab agreed to distribute a car window decal to all drivers in size 12 or larger, to be placed on every cab, welcoming persons with service animals.  The decal was to be on cabs "purchased, leased, or operated" by Yellow Cab.  All drivers and dispatchers had to take an ADA training program, and all future hires had to be trained concerning passengers with disabilities within 30 days of starting to work for Yellow Cab.  Yellow Cab also agreed that the Department of Justice could perform unannounced testing.  The woman who complained received 25 free fare certificates. 


The federal district court for Nevada granted the preliminary injunction, stating:

“Yellow must not refuse to transport the Douds on the basis of Mrs. Doud's disability. Yellow must provide the Douds with taxi services on the same terms and conditions as any other passenger. If, however, any portion of Mrs. Doud's disassembled scooter is too heavy to lift, Yellow's drivers need not lift it. Yellow must also incorporate into its existing driver training that the Douds may ride in Yellow's standard taxis.”

The case is likely to continue.  James Doud alleged that he lost his job with Yellow Cab in retaliation for filing the complaint against the company he worked for.  That sort of retaliation could lead to substantial penalties if established.  Doud v. Yellow Cab Company of Reno, Inc., Case No. 3:13-cv-00664-MMD-WGC, 2014 US Dist LEXIS 120243 (August 28, 2014). (See Service and Therapy Dogs in American Society, pp. 155-157.)

As one who was a long-time resident of New York City, where cabbies cruise for fares but, particularly at rush hours, only stop for passengers likely to be going short distances who don’t have luggage, it must be said that an injunction like this would have little effect at any location other than a taxi stand.  Even there, I could be passed to the second or third cabbie in the line just because I was not wearing a suit and tie on a given day.  “I’m going out on a call in a minute.”  “I’ve got to stop for gas if we’re going any further than midtown.”  An injunction would do no more than assure that certain excuses were not used.  Still, the fact that rights are not always enforceable does not mean that they do not exist.

Thanks to Leigh Anne Novak for valuable suggestions.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Centers for Disease Control Seeks Funding for PTSD/Service Dog Study

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is seeking approval from the Office of Management and Budget to fund “a laboratory-based work-simulation study” that will “investigate the influence of the presence of and interactions with a dog on the reactivity and performance of veterans with and without PTSD to work-related and startle stressors.”  The study will be conducted at a research facility of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Morgantown, West Virginia.  The CDC’s announcement that it is seeking funding for the study was posted in the Federal Register on September 9 (79 Fed. Reg. 53430). 

The proposed study is described as follows:

“The role of dogs in potentially moderating the effects of the stressors will be investigated with either the absence or presence of a dog in some conditions and a dog that is either familiar or unfamiliar to the veteran in other conditions. The general working hypothesis is that the presence of, and/or interaction with, a familiar dog reduces stress and enhances work performance for both veterans with and without PTSD, with a greater benefit to veterans with PTSD.”

The  CDC announcement mentions therapy dogs, which perhaps means that when a dog unfamiliar to the veteran is used during some of the trial circumstances, therapy dogs will be used.  The kinds of symptoms that dogs may be useful in alleviating are listed as “diminished interest or participation in significant activities, feelings of detachment or estrangement from others, difficulty falling or staying asleep, hyper vigilance, exaggerated startle response, difficulty with concentration or attention, and a restricted range of affect.”

The CDC expects to recruit U.S. veterans for the study, including veterans with service dogs, by getting help from various veterans’ organizations.  About 400 persons in veterans’ agencies will receive emails concerning the research study, with follow-up phone calls.  Veterans will have to complete some questionnaires that will be posted on the internet, and those selected from this stage will go through several days of assessment sessions at the NIOSH Morgantown facility. Screening forms will include:
From the initial pool, 64 veterans will be enrolled in the laboratory portion of the study, including at least 16 veterans who own service dogs.  On entering the study, veterans with service dogs will complete the following materials: 
  • Big Five Inventory (BFI) 
  • Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (CBARQ)
  • Pet Attachment and Life Impact Scale (PALS) 
  •  Dog Personality Scale (DPQ)   
  •  Social Style-Self and Social Style-Service Dog questionnaires
There will be no cost to participants other than giving their time. 

The CDC is probably hoping to find evidence that service dogs are helpful to veterans, but acknowledges that no particular outcome is certain:

“A review of mostly anecdotal evidence suggests that animal-assisted interventions may have general therapeutic benefits for individuals with PTSD. Although a few reports tout the benefits of human-animal companionship, no studies have focused specifically on investigating the elements of human-animal interactions that might be therapeutic for individuals with PTSD or other stress-related disorders. Furthermore, there is scant evidence supporting the notion that service dogs or therapy dogs may directly improve functioning and, thereby, ease an individual’s reintegration into society and employment.”

While most studies on the benefits of therapy dogs are rather anecdotal, research in the area is becoming more rigorous, as noted here in a recent blog

Anyone, including members of the general public, can obtain more information on the project by calling (404) 639-7570.  Comments can be sent to Leroy A. Richardson, 1600 Clifton Road, MS-D74, Atlanta, GA 30333.  An email can be sent to omb@cdc.gov.  Mr. Richardson is a Chief in the CDC’s Information Collection Review Office in Atlanta.  Written documents should be received within 60 days of the Federal Register announcement, i.e., by November 8. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Bomb Dogs Work Faster When Handlers Are Distracted

The relationship between the handler and a detection dog is often of concern because of the possibility that the handler’s thoughts or feelings as to the presence of a target substance may result in a signal to the dog that it is time to alert, a phenomenon known as cueing. When typical drug-related criminal activity is suspected, the handler may intentionally signal the dog to give a trained final response so that probable cause for further action is established.  More often the concern has been that the handler may not be aware that his beliefs are leading to subtle behavioral changes in his management of the dog that result in the dog giving an alert.  (See Cueing and Probable Cause.) Yet the handler’s mental state may influence a working dog’s effectiveness in other ways, as indicated by recent research from Israel. 

A team of ten scientists from the Behavioural Neuroscience Lab at the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine in Haifa considered how putting stress on handlers affected the performance of explosives detection dogs.  For purposes of the study, the team sought to distinguish between two possible types of handler stress: external stress, which was defined as stress irrelevant to the task of the canine team, and internal stress that was relevant to the task.  The team studied five Malinois and their handlers working in the Israeli Air Force.  The dogs had been in service about six months, but each handler had at least a year of experience with the dog to which he was assigned.  Salman Zubedat, Shlomit Aga-Mizrachi, Adi Cymerblit-Sabba, Jonathan Shwartz, Joseph Fiko Leon, Shlomo Rozen, Itay Varkovitzky, Yuval Eshed, Dan Grinstein, and Avi Avital (2014).  Human-Animal Interface: The Effects of Handler’s Stress on the Performance of Canines in an Explosive Detection Task. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 158, 69-75.

Experimental Design

To provide a baseline on the level of stress in a handler, a pre-pulse inhibition test was given both before the handler was put in a stressful situation and after a trial was completed.  External stress came from a three-minute conversation with the handler’s unit commander.  After the conversation, a task was performed in which the dog could identify two explosive odors.  In training sessions, however, dogs could detect 1, 3, 4, 5, or 6 explosive odors.  When the dog sat next to a hot spot, it was allowed to play with a ball as a reward. 

The search area was long and narrow, a 50 meter line with a two meter width, which teams were given no more than five minutes to search.  The unusual search area may have been chosen to duplicate a street in a dense urban environment where explosive devices might be hidden in buildings against the street or in items like carts along it.  Alerts, false alerts, and misses were to be measured, though no false alerts or misses were recorded (which says a great deal for Israeli military dogs).  Consequently, differences in performance levels of teams were established by measuring the energy levels of the dogs and the time intervals for the trials. 

An experimenter hid the explosives before a trial so that the handler and other staff were blind to the location of explosives.  Hides were placed in different orders relative to the exploration direction of the dogs.  Sites were explored from different directions by the teams so as to limit the effect of possible contamination, though the paper says that the “location of the hidden explosives remained constant between the different test days.” (This may have been a design flaw as the amount of odor available to the dog would tend to increase over the period of the experiment.) An alert consisted of the dog sitting near the hot spot and poking its nose towards the exact location of the hide.  Trials were videotaped.

Applying Stress

Internal stress consisted of having external viewers, commanders, and study executives present during trials.  These participants pointed at the handler as he walked the long and narrow search area and pretended to write down comments during the trial.  External stress, the three-minute conversation, consisted of the commander informing the handler that he would be reassigned to another military unit, that the handler was going to face a military investigation, or something else designed to rattle the handler. The handler was ordered not to share the conversation with anyone. At the end of the trial, the handler was told that the stressful information had been revoked, but that the handler still should not share the information.

The external stress condition (“You’re facing an investigation,” etc.) “led to the highest startle response compared with the control and the ‘internal stress’ conditions.” When handlers were under external stress, the dogs had the shortest, and thereby most efficient, detection times.  External stress was also correlated with the highest levels of canine activity.  As measured by the PPI test, stress on the handlers impaired their covert attention, and external stress produced the highest impairment of the two types. 

As to what explained this unexpected finding, the research team hypothesized:

“We postulate that the stress disturbed the handlers in their focus of attention and thus led to less control of the dogs’ leash. Consequently, it allowed the dogs to manifest their training outcome in a less ‘handler-dependent manner’. This presumable locus of control transfer may explain the improved performance of the dogs.”


The importance of explosive detection dogs in Israel may be indicated by the size of the team involved in this study. A photograph from a recent military operation shows the value that the Israeli military assigns to the protection and care of military dogs. 

The results might have differed had the search area been wider so that the sweep would have required crisscrossing.  Although training sessions could involve various numbers of hides, the scientists chose to use only two hides and perform limited recorded trials.  Having people, including supervisors and other officials, watch the trials might be more stressful for some handlers than others. Different ways of applying stress should be explored since a major difference between the two types of stress was when they occurred in relation to a trial.  Implementing variations on the experimental design will be important to verify the conclusions reached by this team. 

Still, the situations presented are clear enough, and the general nature of the findings is quite credible.  A handler with his own problems is less likely to be interested in cueing his dog to alert since he may not want to spend time dealing with a more detailed search or the resultant paperwork from a situation of his own making.  Thus, the research might have applications in a wider range of canine operations. 

This blog was written by John Ensminger and L.E. Papet.

Note on the photograph: This picture was provided by a friend in Israel, who advises us that it was sent anonymously from Gaza to an Israeli television station.  This apparently gave the station license to use the picture without giving the station the right to license (or preclude) our reproduction of it here. We believe it may have been reproduced elsewhere.  The anonymity may mean the photographer does not wish to acknowledge the context or is prevented by Israeli military law from asserting ownership.  If, however, someone believes the usage here violates an interest in the work, it will be removed on a credible claim of superior rights.  Anyone wishing to communicate with us regarding a claim as to the rights of the picture is asked to send an email to jensminger@msn.com.