Typically Da Big Boyz Crew are advocates of “rules were meant to be broken,” but occasionally even we agree rules exist for a reason. Just one such occasion is when it comes to service dogs and service dog law where it seems like just about everyone is viewing them more as recommendations. It doesn’t matter if you want to take your dog everywhere or you are breaking the law by presenting your pet as a fake service dog, both actions cause damage and harm to the service dog and disabled community.
When BigLenny and I are out in public at least once a week someone will come up and talk about how their dog would be “just perfect!” for service dog work. They wish they could take their dog everywhere just like me. There’s only one issue. They don’t understand the right to be escorted by a fully-trained service dog comes with a mountain of headaches no sane person would ever wish upon their worst enemy let alone themselves.
Per U.S. Federal Law and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dog handlers must be disabled. Service dogs perform tasks that their disabled owners would otherwise have a hard time doing on their own. By communicating your desire for a service dog, you’re also wishing for the disability that comes along with it. Hearing an able-bodied person freely wish for a disability (even if you don’t say those exact words) is extremely hurtful for a disabled person. It suggests you don’t take the disabled person or their disability seriously and trivializes the thousands of hours of training and socialization their canine partner went through to be prepared to do his/her job.
If you have questions about service dogs or about the job service dogs perform, ask them, as long as the question isn’t, “How can I make my pet a Service Dog” or “How can I take my dog everywhere, too?” The answer to those questions, unless you are disabled and your dog possesses the aptitude for service dog work, is ALWAYS: You Can’t! No equipment, vest, harness, special leash, ID card, “Do Not Pet Me” patches or anything else can make your dog a service dog unless you are disabled and your dog has been specifically trained to perform tasks or work that you would otherwise have difficulty completing due to your disability. If all of that isn’t true, then it’s ILLEGAL.
A lot of times service dog handlers are met with judgement and conflict – sometimes from public, friends and family, even other service dog handlers. Service dog handlers are forced into confrontations on a regular basis concerning their canine partner’s public access rights. Even though U.S. Federal Law is very clear regarding a disabled handler’s right to have their service dog go together with them in public. Many handlers especially in smaller towns or more rural areas face recurrent conflicts. From the “What’s wrong with you?” questions to, “Show me his papers,” life with a service dog is rarely without challenges. When you casually announce, “I wish my dog were a service dog,” let alone fake service dog status or claim your pet is an assistance animal, you’re not only minimizing the conflict faced by the service dog community, but also the hassle, lack of privacy, judgement, strife, and sometimes outright hostility that accompanies service dog partners.
Fake service dogs only contribute to this issue. Dogs demonstrating poor training, manners or behavior while wearing the “Service Dog” banner cause everyone who come into contact with them to view the next team they meet, even if it’s the best service dog team on earth with suspicion and judgement.
Emotional support animals and therapy dogs are often confused with service dogs. These are important types of working dogs who do great work, but are not service dogs and who have no public access rights granted by U.S. Federal Law. If you read my earlier posts you’ll recall that becoming and being a service dog is hard work. It requires a specific, rare temperament, an aptitude for training, serving and learning and a degree of stability most dogs simply don’t possess. Beyond that, though, service dogs undergo hundreds if not thousands of hours of socialization, public access training, basic obedience training and advanced training for their handler’s specific disability task work.
Anyone who has flown on a commercial plane recently might have seen some kind of animal or another being called a “service animal” or you might have even seen something in the news. This time I’m not talking about a service dog. The U.S. Transportation Department recently ruled that airlines must continue to allow “common” service animals on flights. Until now a lot of passengers have been using the right to have a service animal loophole, which has caused some news related stories. The U.S. Transportation Dept. “wants to ensure that individuals with disabilities can continue using their service animals while also helping to ensure that the fraudulent use of other animals not qualified as service animals is deterred.” Airlines became concerned as passengers tried to fly with peacocks, ducks, turkeys, pigs, porcupines, snakes, turtles and iguanas to name a few as service animals. Would you want to be in the seat next to one of these service animals?
Distracted Service Dogs Can Result in Hurt Handlers. When/If a person fraudulently takes their pet with them as a “service dog,” the pet dog could distract or harm a true service dog, which could result in injury to the service dog’s person. In the U.S. most states have laws that protect both the individual and the service dog if harm is done or the team is knowingly interfered with and the crime is punishable by law.
There are no papers, documents, certifications, vests, tags or special IDs required for service dogs in the U.S. Under Federal Law, disabled individuals accompanied by service dogs are allowed access to places selling goods or services of any kind, including places offering entertainment, lodging and food. Under the ADA a business may only ask two questions of a dog team owner:
- 1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- 2. What work or task is the dog trained to perform?
Fake service dogs can often be identified by their lack of manners, obvious lack of training and ill behavior. If a “service dog” is interrupting a business’ daily operation with its behavior, it’s a danger to anyone or its conduct is NOT conduct acceptable in a service dog (barking, growling, stealing food from other clients, knocking people over, jumping, etc.), by law, the manager or business owner has every right to ask the person to remove the dog from the premises, “service dog” or not.
As a result of the public designating themselves as members of the “Service Dog Police” and the media’s sweeping statements concerning the service dog community, all service dog handlers, especially those with invisible disabilities like hearing loss, diabetes, PTSD or a seizure disorder, face a sense of distrust from bystanders, business owners and the public that is often noticeable. Handlers frequently face silent stares, pointed digs or inquiries, outright invasion of privacy and many other difficulties.
Please do not make light of the requirements and difficulties of service dog partnership, because when you do, this is the contribution you’re making.
We hope the message here is pretty clear:
- 1. Don’t fake service dog status.
- 2. Don’t downplay a disabled individual’s history or circumstances.
- 3. Don’t disrespect the work that goes into training a service dog.
- 4. Don’t make widespread conclusions or announcements that will have exponential consequences.
- 5. Don’t think you can spot a service dog in any way besides their behavior.
- 6. Say what you mean and mean what you say. And to take it one step further, think before you speak or act and the service dog community will be a better place as you map your existence!
All the best,
As always hit us up with comments, questions, complaints, rants, like, shit anything would be nice! You can find us on the forum @BigT. You might not see us, but we are always around.
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