The Loop Newspaper - Tehachapi's Online Community News & Entertainment Guide

By Liz R Kover
Marleys Mutts Dog Rescue 

Fake Service Dogs

It's a Dog's Life

 

I received the following message recently, and wanted to share it as a way of presenting a growing problem that is infiltrating communities across the country. While I truly respect this person for "asking before doing", the thoughts expressed here represent a mindset that is significantly detrimental to individuals with disabilities, and the service dogs that help them live fuller lives.

Dear Liz,

I have a black lab who's pretty much all I've got and I would like to keep him with me as much as possible. Even though I have no need for a service dog, I was wondering if I could try to get him certified as a service dog so he can have access to public places where service dogs are allowed. He is such a well-behaved dog. It seems a shame that he's not allowed to go everywhere with me. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

I responded, Dear A. I am so glad you wrote to me, though you may not care for what I am about to say. I often hear the very question you've asked, as many others wonder the same thing. Therefore I appreciate the opportunity to open up the conversation and shed some light where I am able.

According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, a service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks that mitigate a disability. In other words, what you're proposing is illegal. While those of us with well-behaved dogs wish there was, and feel there should be, a law that would allow all "good dogs" to accompany us in public, there is no such law. This fact, however, isn't enough to stop many people from bringing their dogs with them simply because they want to, and feel the law is unfair. Not only that, but because of inconsistencies in the law that exists to protect service dogs, people are getting away with misrepresenting pets as professionals. Managers of business establishments aren't allowed to ask for proof of a dog's certification. Furthermore, while service dogs aren't required to wear ID tags or vests, the majority of them do. And these "supplies" are made readily available by online outfitters that sell official-looking service dog gear to anyone willing to fork over fifty bucks.

What all of this means is that legitimate service dogs, who spend years in specialized training before they are ready to do their work in the world, are now targets of skepticism and judgment brought about by fakers. Legitimate dog-handler teams bear the burden for dishonest people's actions, and this is incredibly insulting and frustrating to trainers, handlers, and advocates that work with real service dogs and their humans.

The act of "bending the rules" for public access rights may seem harmless at first. But what you need to realize is that taking advantage of a law meant to protect people with disabilities makes life more difficult for people who already deal with more than enough challenge and discrimination as it is. Not only does faking a dog's "credentials" disrespect the law; in my opinion it is not only illegal, but immoral as well.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to share them with me. Also, let me know if I can visit your classroom, or come to your workplace and provide sensitivity training about service dogs and the law to your staff. I can be reached at liz.kover@marleysmutts.com.

 
 

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