Fake Service Animals Aren’t the Problem!

It seems the one issue I can’t escape from lately is that of fake service animals. My social media feeds are littered with posts about fake service dogs being caught by the authorities, pleas for legislation to counter the abuse of public access, or warnings on how to potentially spot a fake service dog. Off the Internet, I’ve overheard conversations from family, friends, coworkers, and complete strangers on the topic. The one glaring thing with all this outrage is that its entirely misplaced.

Now here me out, okay? I get it. The idea of someone parading their pet around eschewing the law is immoral, reprehensible, and arrogant. I’m sure nearly every pet owner would like nothing less than to never have to leave their companion home alone. Even when they understand the vast difference between a pet and a trained service animal, people will still lament their jealousy over my guide dog accompanying me while their pet is home. Sometimes they’ll even remark how they’re sure that same pet would be just as well behaved. Regardless of the validity of such a claim, they still aren’t afforded that right.

I am not, however, in the least bit bothered by the “fakers.” First, because the law is on my side. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines service animals as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” This sounds really broad and there is a reason for it. Most service animals that you’re aware of are quite visibly recognizable either by their working attire or their partner’s disability. However, there are many service animals utilized for “invisible disabilities” or those that you can’t determine just from casual observation. There are dogs trained to detect diabetic shock and epileptic seizures, for instance. Since the United States has very strict laws about medical privacy, and working with a service animal does not supersede that right, the broad definition is a necessity. Of course, in my experience, considering the exposure you receive by the very nature of working with a service animal, handlers tend to be more easygoing about answering questions about their disability.

Possibly more to the point, the second reason fake service animals don’t particular faze me is that their merely being in the public is not doing me a disservice. Sure, I don’t want them there and it can be infuriating to witness someone breaking the law without any consequences. But if they’re “faking” the job of being a service animal properly then they aren’t misrepresenting me as a handler nor are they actively interfering with my guide dog’s ability to do her job.

The law is also on my side if that fake service animal isn’t behaving because it has provisions for misbehaving service animals. And yes, sometimes service animals misbehave. It’s easy to assume this is because the animal wasn’t trained properly, but the truth is any number of reasons could be the cause of misbehavior. Service animals are not furry robots; they’re living beings who have off days, get overwhelmed, or just act out. Whatever the reason may be, a misbehaving service animal is unacceptable. Specifically, the law states “that service animals be under the control of the handler at all times” and when this is not the case “and the handler does not take effective action to control it, staff may request that the animal be removed from the premises.”

After nearly twenty years of working with a service animal, I can say with certainty that awareness has grown exponentially about public access rights. However, more often than not while a proprietor may understand that service animals have to be allowed into their establishment they are not aware of their rights under the law. I’m of the belief that this is at least partly due to the paranoia of litigation that pervades, well, everything. Nevertheless, this is where your outrage should be focused: educating everyone about the law!

What we don’t need is more legislation to curb the supposed rampant fake service animals. Yes, there are pros and cons to a lot of potential ways to combat the abuse of the laws as they are presently written. I’m personally on the fence about many of them, but the big sticking point for me and many handlers here in the States is the issue of professional training. Presently, the law affords a handler freedom to choose between any trainer or program in order to obtain a service animal. This includes the right to train one’s own service animal. While all of my guide dogs have come from schools dedicated to training guide dogs and I personally anticipate that I will always utilize such services, every handler is different. Some relish the structure a program might offer, while others prefer the flexibility of their own training methods. Also, while there are many types of training programs, there are those who are unable to get the services they need from any of them.

In short, service animal handlers are not any more above the law than the fake ones. If you witness a handler not doing their job and/or their partner is causing a disruption in public, I urge you to call them out on it! Focus your energy on educating everyone about the law rather than wasting your time trying to defeat the very concept of those who might break it.

Service Dogs and Public Access

I don’t often cross-post things, but I recently replied to a Tumblr “rant” about service dogs in restaurants and I really wanted to share it here. Plus, it’s International Assistance Dog Week!

The original post, titled “A disservice to service dogs” begins:

Look, I get it. People around here love their dogs, more than children it seems. But do you know what? I do not enjoy dining where your furry friends have been joining you at the table. I mean it’s different if they’re chilling on the ground in the patio being well behaved, that’s different.

Just the other day I answered an ask that is very appropriate to this poster’s feelings about dogs in restaurants. It was about the time I got thrown out of a liquor store because, essentially, the owner didn’t want a dog in his shop despite my rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As I noted in my response on Tumblr, the personal feelings of whether or not a service dog should be in a public place are entirely irrelevant. In my original reply, I used the comparison example of having to share space on public transportation with others who perhaps don’t bathe themselves well enough. Unfortunately, I have to deal with it because they have just as much right to occupy space on a CDTA bus as I do.

The post continues:

Just the other day I was a popular San Clemente restaurant where dogs aren’t allowed, and all of a sudden I hear barking from several tables away! “That’s weird” we thought. The barking continued. We complained to the hostess. But because the dog had a “service dog” tag, they said they couldn’t do anything about it. First off, I could put a raccoon on a leash and it would be better trained than this dog. Second, what a tiny yorkie going to do for you? I  kinda get the idea of an emotional support animal but on a cool morning you could probably take your buddy out to the car if it’s acting up.

The 2010 revision of the ADA included a new definition for “service animals” and it is very clear on public access rights. Service animals are permitted wherever the public is and that includes inside restaurants. However, it is expected that the animal be under control of the handler at all times. Anyone who has ever eaten with me at a restaurant knows that my absolute favorite thing is when we get up to leave and I recall my guide dog from under the table to the surprise of staff and patrons. Why? Because that’s exactly what should happen; it proves she was doing her job the whole time and remained entirely unnoticed by everyone but me.

The service dog referenced was obviously not behaving properly and was causing a disruption to the other patrons. The hostess was incorrect in saying that the staff had to ignore the issues because it was a service dog and in fact they could and should have requested the handler leave.1

The rant continues:

Who am I kidding here; you and I both know this was no service dog. For just 79 dollars you can register any animal as a service animal and get to take your buddy anywhere you want, and those mean people who hate dogs can’t do anything about it. If you don’t want to “register” your dog, you can just buy a service dog ID on Amazon for $15.  It’s stuff like this that gives real service animals a bad name. This is what’s going to get the government to regulate service animals, making life difficult for people who really need them.  Knock it off people.

Actually, what makes it difficult for service animal handlers is misinformation about the law. There is no mandatory registration! And there is also no legal need to have an ID or other certification that your partner is in fact a service animal. Yes, that opens the door for people to waltz fake service animals through the doors of any public place, but if that dog is behaving itself like a real service animal then it’s hardly causing an issue for future handlers.

Additionally, there are many types of disabilities that are not readily apparent to the casual observer. Even as a blind person, which you might think would be terribly obvious to the public, I am constantly queried about what my guide dog does and how she specifically aids me. Likewise there are also many different tasks that service dogs perform. Perhaps this dog was trained to alert to an epileptic seizure or diabetic shock.

Or maybe, just maybe, it was a fake service dog. It’s honestly difficult to prove. And the law is fairly specific as to what is considered an acceptable line of questioning. However, that said, in my personal experience as a handler I find we’re generally pretty tolerant of being asked about our partners. If you aren’t rude or accusatory, you’ll likely have similar results.

  1. The law also stipulates that in such cases, the same goods and services should be provided in the absence of the service animal.

Service Dog Kicked by Airlines Worker

Everyone should watch this video:

You can read the full article here. (Thanks to Carin of Vomit Comet for alerting me to this.)


The other day I posted about the situation with Snickers the service dog. I saw yesterday that he’s since been reunited with his partner thanks to the judge ruling in favor of the injunction.

Things here are much the same. My mother is currently not speaking to me due to a very involved story. And for once I’m not taking the blame for her being wrong and I’m refusing to apologize. She can just stay mad. That means that my holiday plans have been slightly truncated and I’m kind of relieved. I don’t have to try and whip the house into shape (i.e., finish decorating) or do a ton of cooking and/or baking. In fact, I’m strongly considering deholidayifying the house so I can get some decent cleaning done. But that’s also a lot of work and I’m feeling rather lazy.

Actually, I’m feeling kind of run down. I’ve been battling a sinus thing for awhile now and I think it’s finally decided to turn into an actual thing. I figure if it really is something I can deal with it on Wednesday when I already have a doctor’s appointment scheduled to refill my prescriptions.

Uschi hasn’t been quite her usual self these last few days either, but I think that’s more from losing out on having a playmate again. It’s quite typical for her to be a bit despondent after a long visit with another dog, especially when we spend extended time at Dad’s. And it doesn’t help that we haven’t been doing as much fun stuff since it’s been downright frigid outside.

I hate the cold.

Service Dog Considered a Banned Breed

Saw this retweeted on Twitter [full article]:

Breed Specific Legislation Laws (BSL) have become a growing trend amongst cities trying to ban “bully breeds” from their city limits. A city ordinance which bans pit-bulls in the city of Aurelia, Iowa has caught national attention after the ban kept a service dog from his owner because of his breed.  The ordinance was approved in March of 2008 when a meter reader was bitten by a pit bull.  Due to the fact that several people felt unsafe and that the breed was labeled as being “aggressive” (which is only a matter of opinion rather than fact) the ban was placed which prohibits owners of the breed from having them within the city limits.

The owner of the dog in question is a disabled 64 year old Vietnam Veteran named Jim Sak.  He served for over 30 years on the police force in the city of Chicago, Illinois.  Now that Jim has retired both he and his wife Peggy have relocated to Aurelia so that they could be closer to help Peggy’s mother who is an ailing 87 year old woman.

Jim is now struggling to live his daily life due to the fact that an ordinance passed in the city prohibits him from having his service dog “Snickers” simply because he happens to be a pit bull mix.  Snickers, has been with Jim for five years and is certified through the National Service Animal Registry.  The Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities by giving them the right to own a service dog regardless of their breed.  Snickers happens to be a Boxer, Labrador and Pit Bull mix, but the fact that he is mixed with the banned breed has started a storm of problems for Jim and Peggy.

Jim suffered from a hemorrhagic stroke three years ago that causes him to have spasms on his right side affecting both his hand and leg.  He said that it occurs from doing more activity than he should, or during times of stress.  He is forced to use a wheelchair 95 percent of the day due to his disabilities. Snickers is a service dog and trained to sit next to Jim when he needs assistance and waits for the command on what he is told to do.  Snickers will usually be the one who goes to alert Jim’s wife so that she can help him to get back into his chair.  Jim stated in an article for MSNBC “If I fall on my back I’m a turtle. I just don’t move.” he explained, “I grab that collar…He’ll pull me over by the table and chairs and I can pick myself up.”  He says Snickers is very well trained, and has never hurt anyone. “He has never even growled at anybody. The kids come home from school and would stop and play with him.”The Sioux City Journal reported that said Snickers’ presence allows Jim to be left at home for Peggy to go take care of her mother.  Since Snickers has been gone, Peggy has had to leave Jim at home alone with no one to assist him. Jim has reportedly fallen once, and an emergency call was made to 911 for assistance.

The article notes that first a petition was signed by local residents to enforce the ban and then a council meeting voted that the service dog was not an exception. Jim’s filed a lawsuit, though, and the Animal Farm Foundation is assisting him. The hearing was scheduled for today and I’m very interested in the results of Jim’s lawsuit. As the article notes: “This case has the potential to set a precedent for many others. The number of aging and/or disabled people in America is larger than ever, and service dogs can be an essential tool for this population. The right to live independently and safely is a cherished freedom, so the world is watching Iowa to make sure this freedom is not compromised because of a service dog’s breed or physical appearance.”