For people with disabilities, dogs are more than just companions to cuddle up on the couch with at night. They can be trained to help people overcome the limitations of their disability, and allow them to live a fuller life. Think about a blind person and how much more they can do with the assistance of their guide dog.
The Americans with Disabilities Act is very specific, and clearly spells out the criteria that a dog must meet to be legally considered a service dog. The pet parent must have a proven disability, and the dog must have been trained to perform tasks that alleviate that particular disability. Also, because service dogs can access places dogs aren’t usually allowed to enter, the act insists that the presence of the pup doesn’t alter the environment for other people.
Unfortunately, there are people who fraudulently claim their pup to be a service dog. Anyone can order official-looking documentation online that says his or her pet is a service dog. This causes huge problems for those who really need that sort of support from their dog.
Here are some of the consequences for misrepresenting pets as service dogs:
- A badly behaved “service dog” can make it more difficult for those with genuine service dogs to be accepted in the community and welcomed into businesses such as restaurants.
- Such a dog can also adversely affect a real service dog. A well-trained working dog can be traumatized by a bite from an unsocialized or anxious fake service dog, and it can reduce their performance in the work they do for their human partners.
- Imagine if a business owner has to ask a bad-mannered fraudulent service dog to leave because of bad behavior? In these days where Facebook and Yelp reviews are read by thousands, this can be the death knell for a business that is only trying to protect its clientele.
- Many dog businesses such as groomers and vets will offer discounts to service dogs. If a fake service dog benefits from these, their pet parent is basically stealing from the business.
- What about the dog’s well-being? Authentic service dogs are trained to take everything they encounter in their stride. They’re calm and collected, and don’t get flustered by crowds or noises. The same can’t always be said for fraudulent service dogs as they can become quite overwhelmed in some circumstances. This is likely to lead to stress and anxiety.
How do you get around the issue of fake service dogs demanding concessions offered to the real ones? You can’t. Anything that is done will also affect the rights of people with a real service dog. There are no specific training criteria for a service dog, and pet parents don’t need to show proof that their dog has been trained. The dogs also don’t need to wear identification that shows they’re a service dog (although websites that offer “certification” for fake service dogs also sell vests, badges, and identity cards).
It’s also illegal to ask for proof that a handler has a disability, or to be shown what a dog does to help. Medical records are confidential. The result of these guidelines means that theoretically anyone can call their dog a service dog and can’t be questioned about it.
At this stage, authorities accept that they’ll need to put up with fake service dogs to avoid being restrictive or intrusive to those with real canine helpers. Some states are making it a crime to claim a pup as a service dog when he is not, so this may reduce the incidence of this happening. The most important thing is to allow disabled people with genuine service dogs access to all areas and concessions to which they’re entitled. Although this may mean that some dishonest people will advantage of this, there may be no effective way around it.