Fake Service Dogs

I will be honest, before I brought Pickles home I didn’t think anything about fake service dogs. All the service dogs I had met in my life had been the real deal. There was the guide dog that belonged to a friend. There was the psychiatric service dog that I ran into in the store one day, there is a guide dog that occasionally goes into the same store along with a rather large black lab that is a regular with his handler. That particular dog I have no idea what his job is. I never thought to ask because it’s really none of my business. Recently I met a beautiful long haired Golden Retriever that serves partly as an allergy alert dog and partly as a psychiatric service dog.

I don’t think I have ever met a fake service dog. I have come across pets that people have taken in stores. One particular dog was in a stroller, another was in a shopping cart and was trying to lick all the produce in the store. During the summer here a number of grocery stores have the policy of “We would rather you bring your dog in the store than leave it in a hot car because we have to protect dogs from dumbass owners.” I can’t fault the businesses for this. In some way I commend them, and it’s good customer service. Now that I am in the position of needing a service dog, I can see where this is a potential problem.

Pickles is only 5 months old and I am already having bouts of anxiety that once my dog is ready for public access that something is going to happen to him. I love my dog and I do my very best to take care of him where he can take care of me when he is ready. I certainly won’t be kind to the first person who endangers my dog with their pet where it doesn’t belong.

I certainly never expected myself to be in the position where I would have the need of a service dog. I have known for years that one day I would end up in a wheelchair but I really didn’t know what that meant.

As a teenager in the early 80’s I was diagnosed with scoliosis in my back. This was before bracing become regular treatment to stop curves from progressing and to help with pain. My doctor said he would have to keep an eye on my back and promptly forgot about it. Occasionally I would have some mild back pain or it would fall asleep. I never really thought about it much.

Then one day it became painful to walk. I was walking with a noticeable limp and I was always in some kind of pain. It took watching House MD for me to realize that it was okay to use a cane because of the pain I was in. I don’t remember much about the first doctor that I went to, but she was concerned I had a cane and did a MRI of my back. 23 degree curve, degenerative disk disease, partially herniated L4, and L5 disks, ankylosing spondylitis, and bone spurs (which I now know are from osteoarthritis). She threw pain meds at me and sent me out the door and told me to exercise.

I really wish I could remember who diagnosed the chronic bursitis in my hip. It’s caused by the scoliosis, as is the bursitis in my shoulder. This is the wear and tear that happens to the body over time when it’s not aligned properly. No matter how much pain I am in, doctors still won’t fix my back because it’s not considered “bad enough”, yet it’s bad enough that I already need a wheelchair some days.

I had started thinking about a service dog as a possibility to help with mobility issues. Then I feel and hurt myself needing x-rays. It was much sooner than I wanted but it was time.

In my journey to learn about service dogs and training them I saw people bitching on social media about seeing fake service dogs in public, and then someone showed some pretty graphic images of where their service dog was attacked by one of these pets. I started seeing news articles pop up about people (including kids) being attacked by dogs that their owners claimed were service dogs. Then I learned about the service dog/emotional support animal registries on the internet that claim by registering your dog with them you can “take them anywhere”.

Houston, we have a problem.

Part of the problem is the general public doesn’t know a service dog from an emotional support animal. My husband didn’t even know the difference or that they were both different than therapy dogs. He honestly thought that I was conspiring to bring home a large dog that would be nothing but a pet for me to snuggle to feel better and he didn’t want another pet.

Here’s the thing, and I really don’t understand this, there are people out there who honestly believe that the disabled are part of some special club. We get “the good parking spaces” and we get to bring out pets with us everywhere. They want to be part of this special club. These people actually feel like they are being discriminated against because they can’t do the same thing. I wish I was kidding.

Do people really think that being disabled is all fun and games? Personally I would love to be able to get around without worrying about falling and hurting myself. I would love not to spend days on end in bed because of extreme pain. I would love to not be dependent on a cane or crutches or a wheelchair. I certainly don’t like people – including those in my own family – think that I am lying about how much pain I am in or that I don’t feel well, that I am exaggerating because I want sympathy or because I am trying to get out of something. It seriously hurts when you own family doesn’t believe you.

Actually, I think that a lot of people with fake service dogs think it is all fun and games. This screenshot was taken from Instagram.

The person even admitted that their dog wasn’t a service dog and that her mom got the vest and all where the dog could go anywhere with them. According to the law, there is no certification for service dogs, and the certifications that come from organization trained dogs only certifies that they trained the dog to their program standards. The SPCA doesn’t certify dogs for service dog work, therapy work, or emotional support animal work. It doesn’t matter how well trained this dog is, because this person can flash an ID from a fake service dog registry – service dog registries are NOT legally recognized – every legit service dog team that comes after them runs the risk of being harassed and discriminated against because the person before them had an ID. It happens every day because business do not know ADA law and they do not train their employees to know it.

I understand that this person had to turn off comments on her account because people were being less than kind about telling her that passing her dog off as a service dog when it was not was breaking the law and telling her what an awful human being she is for doing such a thing.

Disabled people have enough problems without selfish self-entitled people coming along making things harder because they want special treatment too. They want to park their brand new sports cars in handicapped spots where they don’t get scratched. They want to bring their pets with them everywhere because they think it would be cute and they want to get a picture of their dog sitting at the table at Olive Garden with a bread stick in it’s mouth like a cigar for their 5000+ Instagram followers.

If a dog is well behaved why should anyone care? Because there are health and safety regulations that are in place that are being violated that put everyone at risk. There are about 150 zoonotic diseases (diseases that both humans and animals share) that a person can contract from contact with a sick dog. None of us have any way of knowing if a dog has worms or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or Leptospirosis (look it up on the CDC website) or Salmonella or any one of a plethora of diseases that could make a person very sick. Do you really want a strange animal that you don’t know the health of coming into contact with fresh produce in a store or having ridden in a grocery cart that you are putting your food in?

Fake service dogs and emotional support animals (or people who wrongly think that ESAs can go anywhere just like service dogs because a website lied to them to make money of the gullible) are a problem for everyone because someone somewhere is going to take things just a little too far and than this happens…

Some reading material:
Speaking for Spot – A veterinarian speaks about fake service dogs
Pets Adviser Special Report – Fake Service Dogs, Real Problem (PDF document)
Anything Pawsable – The Hidden Complications of Fake Service Dogs
SitStay – 7 Unexpected Complications of Fake Service Dogs



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