You and I haven’t had the displeasure of meeting, but you’ve met almost all of my friends at one point or another. You may think you’ve pulled one over on everyone, but you’ve actually made governments – state or provincial – stand up and take notice of what you’ve been doing. I wish I could say that it’s nice to meet you, but then I would be lying… something you do every day by passing off your pet (even a well-behaved one) as a service dog. Maybe you know in the back of your head that your actions may affect those of us with illnesses or disabilities who use service dogs to increase our independence or alert to oncoming life-threatening situations; maybe you just want what you want. You love your dog, I get it; I love mine, too. But just in case you weren’t aware, there are some broader implications of buying a $75 vest online and getting some doctor you’ve never met to sign a piece of paper indicating you need a “service” dog. You’ve heard the general arguments, and you keep doing this, so maybe it’s time someone asked some tough questions.
Is it Even RIGHT for your Dog?
If your dog doesn’t scrounge, bark, growl, lunge, wander around unnecessarily, or display other inappropriate behavior in public, move on to the next section; I have different questions for you.
Service dogs are well-trained and welcomed into public establishments for good reasons. They go through hundreds if not thousands of hours of public access training by owners, puppy raisers, and/or professionals, who work their way up to being able to take the dogs into malls, restaurants and stores. Not all dogs that are bred, raised, and go through service dog training complete it for a variety of reasons (much of it stress or health related). Even trained service dogs have “off” days but overall are well-behaved and continuously trained to be that way even after being issued to a handler with a disability or life-threatening illness. If a service dog is uncontrollable or aggressive or ill, and no amount of retraining can fix this, handlers go through the heartbreaking process of retiring the dog. In contrast, you just want what you want – your dog in a store with you – and don’t care about the sudden stress you’re putting on your dog. Your Fluffy, nine times out of ten, is incredibly stressed by your taking him into Walmart to buy your quart of milk, dozen eggs, and a replacement toothbrush, and can act fearful or aggressive due to that stress. And don’t get me started on your allowing your dog to get out of control, display aggressive behavior, to wander away from you, or to do other things for which a child would be asked to leave had they done them. In a terrific facebook post, a friend put this better than I ever could:
… look at it from that pet dog’s perspective. He has no idea what is happening to him, very likely does not like it, does not know how to behave, and doesn’t have a handler who is listening to any of the dog cues he is sending for: “Please don’t bring me here. I don’t like this. I’m scared or mad.” That dog is clearly saying one thing, but all that human hears is: “Me. I get to do what is convenient for me. Screw my dog. Screw the civil rights of other people. Me.”
Can you Expand your Dog’s Training?
If you’ve socialized your pet appropriately in pet-approved malls, restaurant patios, and stores, you have my gratitude. Dogs are a reality that our service dogs will encounter regularly, and the better trained or behaved your dog is, the easier it is for my service dog and I to go about our business.
But if you have the previously-mentioned “service dog” vest on your pet dog and take well-behaved Brutus or Fluffy into malls and stores where dogs are generally not welcome, not only are you committing a fraud by passing as someone with a disability or illness, you are making your dog unnecessarily dependent on your companionship. You think you can’t function without him, but in reality you are making him uncomfortable with his own company. If your dog can’t be left at home for a few hours without disturbing the neighbors with her barking or destroying your couches out of boredom, this makes my point for me. Why don’t you take some of that wonderful training foundation you’ve put into place and use it to work with him on separation anxiety? You’ve gotten the socialization training down pat, so take a little bit of extra effort and make all of our lives more convenient, not just yours. I have full confidence in you!
Do You Know Your Fraud Is Coming to An End?
Not only are legitimate service dog handlers sick of what you’re doing, businesses and governments are, too. This will affect your ability to pull off this fraud for much longer, particularly as it pertains to your misbehaving Brutus or Fluffy. Many of us service dog handlers are educating businesses on what is appropriate service dog behavior, what is a legitimate service dog being under control but having a rough day, and what is flat-out unacceptable. Businesses and service providers are being advised about the questions they can ask, what behavior is acceptable, and when they can deny service. Did you know that in most jurisdictions, businesses have the right to ask that any misbehaving dog – service dog or not – leave the premises? You’ve gotten by with your mass-produced “service dog” vests and registry cards (which, by the way, currently aren’t worth the plastic they’re printed on), counting on the fear of getting sued for asking you to leave your disruptive “service dog” outside or at home. But many of us handlers have your number and are contacting businesses and advising them of their rights (because, after all, they have rights, too).
What is also looking much more likely in a lot of states and provinces is a government-issued ID, which will make it much much harder, and the penalties much more expensive, to pass Brutus or Fluffy off as a service dog. And you know who’s going to have the burden of providing this legitimate piece of plastic for the asking? Someone like me, who thank you very much, is noticeable enough because of my service dog – you know, one that mitigates a disability? I hope that financial penalties for your fraud will be high, even as I don’t think it’s fair that I will likely one day have to show identifiable information to anyone who asks because you’ve chosen convenience and selfishness over my right to an autonomous and independent life.
Do you Actually want to Live My Life?
Speaking of living an autonomous and independent life, do you realize what these real service dogs actually do? They guide blind and visually impaired people safely through streets and malls and airports. They alert a deaf or hard-of-hearing handler of sounds in their environment. They pull wheelchairs and open doors and retrieve dropped objects. If their handler is going through a panic attack, it is the dog’s job to indicate that one is coming or remove the handler from the situation. If a diabetic’s blood sugar is low or an epileptic is going to have a seizure, these dogs alert them to get to a safe place or to take their medication. And I haven’t even scratched the surface. These dogs do a million and one little things that assist the independence of people with disabilities and/or with illnesses that could threaten their lives.
Have you lived a day where you hear a child ask what’s wrong with you, or how sorry someone is that you are blind or deaf or use a wheelchair? Have you been told that severe anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder is all in your head while you’ve struggled to leave your house and feel safe in a crowd? Do you worry about packing enough food in case your blood sugar gets too low, or have this niggling sense of dread in the back of your mind about when the next seizure could hit? Do you struggle to obtain or maintain a job because people question your ability to perform job tasks, or feel like you have to hide a part of yourself in order to keep the job you do have?
I could go on and on with these questions, but I’ve made my point. Until such point as you’ve lived these lives – whether my own or that of someone I know and care about – then you have no business pretending that you do. Until you’ve had to chew out a parent for allowing their child to make inappropriate overtures to your service dog, until you’ve had strangers abruptly grab your body or mobility aid because they “meant well,” until you’ve been told that your panic attacks or flashbacks are all in your head and to suck it up and get on with it, you do not have the right to use a dog to pretend that this is your reality. If you wouldn’t take your pet dog dressed in “service dog” gear to a job interview because you wouldn’t want the stigma of disability attached to you, then how dare you do so when it’s convenient for you? You want the perks with none of the inconveniences, fears, and complexity that go along with them.
Many people with disabilities live happy and fulfilled lives, some with service dogs and some without. For many of us, a service dog is the difference between independence and seclusion, confidence and fear, life and death. Are you still going to tell me that this little white lie – pretending you have a disability – doesn’t hurt anyone? Call me the next time someone talks to you like you’re a child, denies you an opportunity for employment, or makes you disclose the fact that you live with PTSD because you “look so normal.” If a store doesn’t want to welcome pets, that is their decision; but they can’t turn away people who use wheelchairs, walkers or canes, so they can’t turn away well-behaved service dogs accompanying people with legitimate disabilities. Unfortunately, actions like yours have caused stores and restaurants to turn us away, usually rudely and publicly. I’m sure your dog is lovely, but you have no business pretending he is what he isn’t, or you live with something you don’t. I don’t care what makes you knock off this self-centered entitled behavior – huge monetary fines, a pricked conscience, or embarrassment from being asked to leave by a well-informed employee of a no-pets-allowed establishment – but it’s time your nose stopped growing.
while we’re on the subjects of dogs, service dogs or not the hardware chain bunnings started allowing dogs into their stors. One day a child was attacked by a dog at a bunnings outlet and the parents of that child questioned the allowance of dogs in their store. and even if you have a jenuin service dog taxi drivers and businesses still refuse access to service dogs and it’s like anything. people who don’t have disabilities are milking it for all it’s worth and that goes for disability benefits and welfare payments and those who jenuinly need those benefits or live on them don’t get them or if they do there’s always a means test for them. I’ve got a friend up the road from me who does have a service dog as she suffers from severe anxiety and depression along with post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD and luckily in this town our taxi drivers and our public busses will take service dogs but if she goes to the city and wants to get a taxi and they refuse her because she’s got a dog it would only add to her stress all the more. recently, a war veteran was refused access for his service dog which was part of his theropy for post traumatic stress disorder but the taxi drivers who are forign to Australia the US Canada UK etc often have views that dogs are horrible and they can’t stand them so don’t take them in taxis it’s more the Indians and other forign nationalities who are more likely to refuse service to dogs.
I know that some cultures do view dogs as unclean. I can’t pretend I understand this, but that’s just me.
If the disability is invisible, like your friend’s case with severe anxiety, etc., then people would be suspicious. It’s an unfortunate reality, partly due to the fakers out there, and partly due to the fact that the disability isn’t apparent.
That being said, I know we don’t agree on this point, but people with disabilities feel and are treated differently enough without having to produce ID, or to wear “disabled” tags around our necks, or to forewarn every shopkeeper or cab driver that we’re coming, service dog or not.
you may hate me for what I’m about to say blindbeader, you may even go as far as to consider me autistic for saying this. The friend I speak of actually came down to see me and brought her service dog down to see me. If it’s a service dog, wouldn’t you think it would be trained not to jump up and be boisterous? remembering it’s still a young dog but a big dog. The one thing I did start to question was when this person opened up to us in a group workshop about something that had happened to her. She disclosed to us with professionals present that she’d been raped and she was in tears. I myself was stunned by this and said nothing or did nothing. I felt like questioning whether they were real tears or crocodile tears but held my tongue and kept my thoughts to myself I know I mentioned my thoughts to my parents privately but was immediately shut down and made to change the subject until one day my mother warend me I shouldn’t be questioning such things because this woman had been to court many times and of those times she was successful at winning said cases so was told never to speak of it again. I myself was told back in 2004 that I was dealing with clinnickal depression and yes, my mother was of the belief that mental illness and depression and anxiety were in the mind but we had neighbours living nextdoor to us at the time and both mother and daughter had bipolar disorder so my mother was proven wrong. but back to dogs, I don’t want to question any jenuinness as to this person really needing a service dog or not or whether there’s something suss going on it’s knowing what to say and when or if ever you’ve got to know the full story before you go and judge someone and jump to conclusions and i’ll acknowledge that I’ve been guilty of this myself so apologies for me going off topic here blindbeader but I felt I should give you a bit of background as to why I try to tread carefull as to whether to question or not to.
I def agree with the fact that fake sd handlers want all the perks without any of the inconveniences. Put these folks to the test by having them request a taxi or Uber, and wait for the ride with their service dog at their side. Nothing makes you question your decision to have a service dog, or makes you experience a loss of freedom and dignity more than when a person leaves you standing on the side of the road bc you use a service dog. I never looked at the issue from this perspective, but it now makes me understand why so many sd handlers are irate about fakers. If you want the right, you gotta want the responsibilities and consequences that come with it. The right to have your dog by your side wherever you go is not always this happy, awesome, comforting thing. To the general public, you’re someone to be pittied, someone who needs help, someone who lacks independence, someone who can’t, and a spectacle. This is not some cute convenience that we get to drag around with us, but our means to experiencing less stress and more freedom. And as an unintended consequence, the world views us as this poor soul, which might make it easy for you to drag your pooch along to get your shopping done, but makes it difficult for us to do the things many take for granted, like taking public transportation, seeking employment, and going about our daily lives without being discriminated against, refused entry, hassled, and manhandled. Fake sd handlers abuse sd handlers’ freedoms, and capitalize on our consequences, and it isn’t right that legislation is moving toward penalizing sd handlers for fakers’ actions.. Thank you for this enlightening post.
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Every single word of this! This is the real damage that fakers are doing, but all but forcing legit teams, who face prejudice and discrimination enough, have to prove that they have the right to be present in society, thus cutting down on independence. Like another commenter said, getting turned away because of her service dog that mitigates anxiety and depression CAUSES anxiety and depression. The fakers don’t seem to understand the double standard… ever notice how most of them drive, so don’t have to worry about being denied a ride on a taxi or bus?
Well said. and the people that do this also make it hard for good trainers who have successfuly trained their service dog look even worse. I’ve been lucky so far in that I was only questioned once by a store manager in the five years I’ve had my dog. I want owner-training to be a viable option for those of us that can do it propperly. Fake service dogs do *not* make that a possibility most people want to face because of discrimination.
Absolutely! I think if you have the ability to owner-train you should have the right to. Heck, it’s more emotionally and financially draining than getting many program-trained dogs… so my hat goes off to “with it” owner trainers!
I have, in the past, worked with developmentally disabled adults and while taking them to a local large retailer (W), there was a homeless guy outside with a huge pit bull. This dog was not on a leash, not identified as a service dog and posed an intimidating deterrent to my clients who were at the store.
I brought this up to the store manager who politely told me that their hands were tied since the guy said that his dog was a service dog. BS. He was pan handling and this dog, who I don’t blame in any respect, was dirty and smelly. If this was a service dog, I want to know what training he’s had and I want to know how I can identify it as a service dog. It was nothing but a lie that this scumbag was playing the system. Very frustrated.
Not sure where you’re located, but if you’re in the USA, the other question a store employee can ask if it’s not apparent what the dog does is “What task is the dog trained to perform?” Providing comfort alone is not a task under the ADA. Also, unless the dog’s disability-mitigating task is impeeded by being on a leash, the dog HAS to be leashed, and that’s the case under most service dog legislation, not to mention any city bylaw that I can think of.
I have a guide dog because of my blindness, which I received from guide dogs for the blind in California. During my first training, they said that it is always appropriate to find out what school a service dog has been trained by and then call that school if you see any inappropriate actions by the dog or the handler. They expect people to do the same if my dog or I don’t respect rules and act properly in public. There’s a big sign on my harness with the name of the school on it. This is to ensure two things, the safety and well-being of the dog, and the reputation of the school and service dogs in general. Unfortunately, there are a lot of legitimate service dog owners who do not maintain the training that the dog has when they receive it. They allow the dog to jump on people, approach them, lick them, put its nose in food sometimes wander around houses off leash, bark at people, etc. This doesn’t do anyone any good, the dog, the owner, or those of us who come after that have to deal with people who have bad attitudes about service dogs. There is no room anywhere in there for people who do not have the right to have a service dog to fake it with vests they buy online and to intimidate business owners who worry about lawsuits. I agree with those comments above
For the most part, I completely agree with you. Businesses should be allowed to exercise their right to ask the Handler of a misbehaving service dog to leave their establishment. The problem comes in right now because people with disabilities are able to train their own service dogs. Some do this because of personal preference While others do this because they have no other option. I believe they should have the right to owner train there service dogs so long as they maintain the dogs training and behavior. The problem I see with any upcoming legislation regarding certification from guide dog or service dog training programs is the fact that the training is only as good as the Handler makes it. Just because somebody graduates from a well-known service dog training program doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog’s training is going to be maintained. So if simply attending a training program is what makes a service dog legitimate then what are we all doing here?
Mickey Davis said:
Gary, This was such an interesting, informative letter and it caused quite an ache in my heart when I read it. I remember once sitting next to a gentleman with a service dog and reaching out to pet the dog who, by the way, allowed it. Afterwards I was informed that when a dog is working he is not to be spoken to or touched while on the job. I was not aware of the distinction and I was truly glad to have been informed by the owner’s wife. Thank you for your very thorough explanation and good luck with your new companion.
Hi, Mickey, I’m not sure who you were addressing as Gary (but thanks, Gary, for sharing this post!)
Not all service dog handlers object to someone petting their service dog, but would like to be asked first. 🙂 I’m glad that your experience with a service dog was a positive one, and thanks for being willing to be educated on service dog etiquette.
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I have been tempted (but haven’t done it ) to be one of those people who pass off my dog as a Service Dog. I do have issues that might warrant me having a Service Dog.. PTSD, ADHD, Anxiety issues. I’m not sure if any of my issues are severe enough to warrant a Service Dog but I know that my dog is an awesome presence in my life. He does calm me when I need it most and is an awesome companion every day. He is smart & social, alert & obedient… We go everywhere together. I know what stores he’s allowed to come into and we go everywhere we can, together.
He might be a good Service Dog. He behaves well in Hospitals, when visiting my Mom in Hospice. He comes in, licks her hand and lies down near her bed. Perfect behaviour in a Hospice ❤ Never meaning to belittle the needs of others with Service Dogs, I do appreciate your article and will share it with others.
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I have an ESA for severe anxiety and depression. Emotional needs service animals do not need any sort of training because their primary role is to simply provide comfort. My ESA is a cat, as i have been afraid of dogs since i was young. I don’t take her to public places with me, but I have the paperwork so that I cannot be denied housing because of her. My point is that a service animal of this nature does not need any formal training, and people with and ESA are allowed to take their pet with them to places that would not normally allow pets. An ESAs lack of training does not make it any less of a service animal.
I am truly glad that your cat provides you comfort for anxiety and depression. I am not belittling the work that Emotional Support Animals can do for their people. However, Emotional Support Animals are a distinctly American designation (there is currently no such definition in Canada), and they are distinct from service dogs.
Service dogs are task-trained to mitigate a person’s disability(ies), and a person with a disability has the right to be accompanied by a trained service dog to public places where pets are not allowed. Emotional Support Animals, as you have indicated, have received no specialized training and may be allowed in no-pet housing and on airplanes (though that has caused some serious issues recently); however, they are not permitted in restaurants, hotels, or other businesses where pets are not allowed.
I believe emotional support animals do wonderful things for their handlers, but they are not a service animal and, as such, handlers of ESAs do NOT have the right of access that service dog handlers do. That lack of task-training to mitigate a disability does separate an ESA from a service dog, and rightly so. If an ESA can reliably perform tasks in public to help your disability, then they may be a service animal (American law recognizes dogs and miniature horses as service animals). But my point is that there are people who are taking their pets or under-trained emotional support animals into public, passing them off as “service animals”, and the stressed dog reacts fearfully or aggressively. This then causes access challenges to legitimate service dog handlers, because there’s fear that THESE service dogs will behave in the same way.
Reblogged this on Life Unscripted and commented:
more than five years ago, I wrote this post.
For five years, I had lived in a state of semi-denial, as though fake service dogs were both as provable and disprovable as ghosts. I knew many people who had encountered individuals passing off themselves as disabled and their dogs as service dogs, but I never have encountered one myself.
I don’t know whether the handler of the dog I encountered recently on an ETS bus has a disability, or whether her dog mitigates it by performing quantifiable tasks. But what I do know is the dog was barking and snarling at my service dog, who stood at my side and was willing – though hesitant – to board the bus while the other dog was displaying aggressive behavior toward her.
What made the whole situation worse? It didn’t appear that anyone – particularly the bus driver – was willing to do anything to address the clear safety hazard that this dog’s behavior possessed to its handler, other passengers, my dog, or myself.
I still believe every single word I wrote five years ago. But all I will add is this:
We, as legitimate service dog handlers, have a responsibility to ensure that our dogs are under control, clean and presentable, and behave well in public. This does not mean they are robots; mistakes can and do happen. But when they do, we have a responsibility to the service dog community and the general public to address behavioral issues appropriately. I don’t want to be denied service somewhere because some service dog was permitted to behave aggressively and people stood by and did nothing. That other handler’s rights were protected; mine should be also.