It may seem harmless to pretend your dog is a
trained service dog, but the result can be
potentially dangerous and illegal!
Is it really a big deal for people to claim their dog is a service animal so they can take them everywhere with them? For those of us who love our dogs unconditionally, it may seem reasonable to share all aspects of our daily life with them by our side.
While unscrupulous companies make it easy to buy service dog vests, harnesses, collars or tags, it’s not a valid reason to take advantage of the privileges disabled people have fought long and hard to have. Not only is it a thoughtless practice hurting the very people who need it the most, it’s also a crime!
Legally Speaking, What is a Service Animal?
It’s important to understand the legal definition of a service animal. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) federally mandates that “people with disabilities are entitled to bring their service animals to places of public accommodation, on public transit, on the job and in housing ... even if they otherwise prohibit animals.”
Legally speaking, only trained dogs and miniature horses
can be considered service animals.
This Act was put into place to guarantee disabled people with trained service or assistance animals the ability to enjoy life, independence and access to common public places like the rest of us. This federal protection is active in all 50 states.
The ADA also defines a service animal as one that has been specifically trained to work or perform certain tasks for a disabled person. The disability may be physical or mental.
Service dogs perform tasks like:
Guiding blind people (Guide dogs)
Alerting deaf people (Hearing dogs)
Pulling a wheelchair or helping with balance issues (Mobility dogs)
Calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or anxiety
Alerting and protecting people with diabetes or seizures (Medical alert dogs)
Quick Facts about Service Dogs
As of 2019, over 80 million Americans use service dogs
Service dogs have been in existence for 100 years, since 1920.
The most common service dog breeds include:
German Shepherds, Labs, and
Using or training fake service animals has become a commonly abused practice and forced many states to pass their own legislature to protect actual service animals and their owners. Whether a dishonest dog owner wants to travel with their dog, obtain housing that normally does not allow dogs or they want to have a breed that is otherwise banned or restricted in the locality, it’s unconscionable and illegal behavior.
Why You Shouldn’t Pretend Your Untrained Dog is a Service Animal
As mentioned earlier, the rampant abuse of the ADA protection of Service Animals has led many states to create and enact legislation to reign in those who would take advantage of special civil rights for disabled people.
Airlines are also beginning to crack down on the service animals they will allow to fly in the cabin with the passenger including Delta and United to stem potential issues inflight.
Still think there’s “no harm” in passing off your dog as a bona fide and trained Service Dog? Consider these real-life stories below.
Randy Pierce has been totally blind for 17 years. “Another dog once spent an entire flight barking at my dog,” he said. While his dog was not barking or reacting, “the barking was changing her behavior. That makes it harder for her to do her job; she loses focus.” He goes on to explain, “I’m 6’4”, so if she loses her focus, it means I’m going to hit my head on the exit sign or doorway or, if we’re on a street, maybe even step out into traffic.”
Ken Kunitsugu has a 12-year-old son with epileptic seizures. Their Medical Alert Service dog is trained to alert to an oncoming seizure by smelling the sweat that precedes an attack. After alerting, she also lays across the boy to protect and comfort him. His father explains, “We often have to ask people to get their pets away from ours, because it’s a distraction, and the dog needs to pay full attention to my son. We can’t afford a distraction.”
Still not convinced? Then read Lacey Stephaney’s story.
“My service dog, Gus, is gone. Because too many people buy vests off the internet and bring their pets wherever they feel like. This is what happens when you bring your pet places where it doesn't belong and claim it's a service dog, when you know damn well it's not.
Because of people that think service dogs are accessories and abuse the system, my real service dog is gone. I lost my partner. My best friend. A huge part of my life and my freedom. I have to live with the memory and pain of putting the dog I love the most down.
I don't tell people to keep their pets at home because I hate animals. I tell you to keep your pets at home because the safety and well-being of my medically necessary service dog was important. I hope no other service dog handler has to experience the pure hell I have. The truth is, I'm not the first, nor the last that lost my partner because someone thought taking their dog to a place like Walmart was cool.”
Remember, the next time you think about trying to pass off your own pet as a trained service dog, you’re hurting the 80 million Americans who rely
upon their real Service Animals for their precious freedom and safety
in day-to-day life.
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