Service dogs are invaluable in assisting the people who need them. They are eyes for the blind, ears for the deaf, warning systems for those who have seizures and can stop autistic children from wandering away.
Photo: Lou Angeli Digita
In March of 2011, the US Department of Justice was forced to amend federal guidelines stating what constitutes a service animal so that the only animals included would be those who are trained specifically to perform tasks directly related to their owner’s proven disability. The reason for the change was that regular, run-of-the-mill pet owners were having their dogs certified as service animals by filling out an online form. The service dog imposter sites charge anywhere between $20 - $300 for a certificate which means nothing.
People who actually own and need service animals are becoming increasingly irate about the situation, since the animals passing as service animals can and have behaved badly, leading business owners to refuse to allow anybody in their establishment who is dependent on an actual service animal. Advocates have compared faking a service animal to illegal usage of a handicapped parking space.
The differentiation is simple: Service dogs are trained to serve. They do a job, for which they have been trained, entailing specific duties. The imposters are pets, period. They’re not trained, they don’t know how to handle everything that a trained service pet does. They may not know how to navigate traffic or deal with crowds. They’re just passed off because some unthinking owner thought "wouldn’t it be great to take Mitzi everywhere I go?"
If a business owner isn’t sure they are seeing a true service dog, there are signs they can look for. The most obvious is the dog’s manners. Service dogs never jump, bark, or appear restless. They follow orders explicitly and immediately. When not interacting with their human, they lie passively and unobtrusively at their feet.
With regard to the fake certifications themselves - any true certificate will have contact information for the school and instructor that the animal was trained with. The Americans with Disabilities Act only allows a business person to ask a disabled person two questions.
1. Is this a service dog for disabilities, and
2. What tasks or assistance does the dog provide you with?
There are serious liability issues involved for the business owner who thinks he let in a service dog, if that animal causes harm to a customer or employee. What if your fake service dog attacks an actual service dog? You will be in a world of legal and financial hurt. If the real service dog breaks training and engages, he will need to be retired, and you will have to pay restitution to his owner. Conservatively, service dogs are worth $20,000 and up. Not to mention the attendant felony the imposter’s owner will have on his or her rap sheet.
One can’t help wondering: If the guilty party knew that what they were doing was felony fraud, would they still think it’s worth it, just to be able to bring their pet with them everywhere they go? At the very least, they’ll be fined. They can lose future rights, such as Social Security and/or Medicare. Prison is even a possibility. Who can possibly look at the consequences and think this is still a good idea?Article written by Kelly Harris of Oh My Dog Supplies, where you can find a incredible assortment of stimulating dog toys online.