Would you know a fake service dog if you saw one? According to Pat Cook, from Guide Dogs for the Blind, the problem of fake service dogs began about 12 years ago and is getting worse. It has grown tremendously, where it’s difficult to go in public without seeing some dog that you know is not a bona fide service dog, she says.
A growing number of people buy fake service dog credentials, vests, and equipment online so that they can take their pets places where only service dogs are allowed – such as restaurants, grocery stores, theaters, airplanes, sporting events, and museums.
Cook recently answered a call from a shop owner who had several dresses in her store ruined by a filthy, smelly dog that peed on the merchandise. When confronted, the shopper kept saying, I have rights! She refused to say what the dog was trained to do for her. That is one of very few questions the Americans with Disability Act allows businesses to ask.
Cook explained that the shop owner also has rights. Anybody who comes into your store with a service dog, it does need to be clean and groomed. It does have to be well-behaved, she says. You can ask her to leave, even if it’s a legitimate service dog, if it’s doing something like lifting its leg on your merchandise.
Since true service dogs are trained to eliminate only on verbal cue, chances are the dog that soiled the dresses was a fake service dog.
What’s the big deal?
The sale of fake service dog credentials and paraphernalia has become such an issue that Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) has created a petition to stop service dog fraud.
Jeanine Konopelski, with CCI, helped me develop this list of the main issues fake service dogs cause for people who truly need a service dog.
- Each time a dog presented as a service dog behaves badly in public, it makes life harder for the people who rely on service dogs. They face much more scrutiny and discrimination almost everywhere they go, which gets old fast and can limit them in their day-to-day life. In some cases, it leads to legitimate service dog teams being denied access unlawfully.
- Fake service dogs may distract real ones from doing their job, potentially putting handlers at risk. Noisy, aggressive, and poorly controlled fake service dogs that approach a service dog handler and dog may distract a legitimate service dog from his work. Depending upon the situation, this could put the handler in danger or even cause injury to the dog or handler.
- Aggressive or reactive fake service dogs may attack or injure a real one. Any legitimate service dog organization would not allow a reactive dog, Cook explains. These dogs that are reactive can make it very difficult for legitimate service dog users. For example, they don’t expect there to be a dog around the corner in Costco, unless it’s another well-behaved service dog. If they go around a corner and find a lunging, snarling dog, it can be very dangerous.
- Fake service dogs put hard won Civil Rights at risk. I asked my friend Alyson Perry, who is grieving the recent death of her guide dog Saddle, to weigh in on this topic. She convened a little focus group of service dog handlers on HeyTel (an instant voice messaging tool), and the group wanted to share these points.
- People have rights. Service dogs dont. The Civil Right belongs to the person, and the trained service dog is an extension of the person.
- These Civil Rights and access laws have been hard to get and are under constant attack.
- Pretending pets (including therapy dogs) are service animals is breaking the law.
- The group does not object to people who competently self-train their service dog specifically to help with skilled tasks of daily life pertaining to the person’s disability (as defined by the ADA, as it currently stands with very narrow definitions, which excludes animals used for emotional support).
- Service dog teams are well-disciplined and are constantly working in collaboration when out in public. Anything that makes this process harder is not only frustrating but dangerous.
- Daily interactions include more insulting, boundary violating prejudice than anyone could imagine. This unjust treatment by businesses and the public often limits handlers lives more than their disability.
I hope this gives you more information about how fake service dogs can be a problem.