Recently, a friend (we’ll call her Lacey) was over at my house. Her brother (who we’ll call Chad) is a very devoted and passionate dog owner who likes to take his dog everywhere with him, whenever possible.
She told me her brother returned from a rock concert recently, where he met another person attending with his dog. Being a dog person, Chad was immediately drawn to this man and his lovely black lab.Chad was impressed and excited that this person was able to attend a rock concert with his dog, and more than a tad envious.
Apparently, our dog-owning concert-goer gave Chad a “great” tip on an organization where you can pay a $25 fee and they will issue you some sort of paperwork stating that your dog is a service dog. Chad thought this was a great idea – for a low one-time fee of $25, he could take his pibble mix anywhere he wanted – to the store, to the movies movies, to a bar or concert, everywhere! Thrilling!
Lacey, being a skilled reader of human body language, obviously saw my face fall as she said this. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
I didn’t even know where to begin.
Before I get into this any further, let me state that I totally empathize with Chad. I also like taking my dogs everywhere with me. Everywhere I go is generally more fun with them than without them, with limited exceptions.
However, “faking” service dog status is really not cool for a number of reasons. Let’s explore these.
- It’s against the law – while $25 may seem like a great deal, the fact is that if you are caught faking service dog status for your dog, you may face large fines and/or jail time. I know you like having your dog with you, but promise you he will not be allowed to accompany you in jail. If you decide to fake service dog status, make sure you have a home lined up for your dog while you are in the clink and a savings account to pay your legal fees and fines.
- Most dogs are not cut out for service work – even in programs where dogs are bred for generations specifically to have the appropriate temperament for a particular type of service, many of the dogs just do not have the temperament for the job they were bred for. A large number of these “washouts” may find careers in other service (a lab that was bred to be a SD for a blind person may be better suited for a career in Search and Rescue) and others may be adopted out as pets. Regardless, not every, or even very many, dogs have the right stuff to do full time service work. Service work is challenging and stressful. It requires years of training before a dog can be considered well enough trained where someone’s life can be placed squarely in the dog’s paws. While you may think your dog would have a lot of fun going to an amusement park, he may actually find it very stressful and would in fact prefer to be home, relaxing in his crate with a stuffed Kong.
- Poorly trained “fakes” make real SDs look bad – Disabled individuals already face too much discrimination in our society. Whether the disability is visible and obvious (as is the case with individuals with mobility assistance devices) or invisible (as is the case for individuals with certain seizure disorders, diabetes, or mental illnesses), discrimination abounds, especially for handlers of service dogs. Because many businesses in our society are already anti-dog, any misbehavior on the part of a “service dog,” real or fake, reflects poorly on the entire population of disabled individuals who are able to live more full lives as a result of their working dogs.
- It threatens the civil rights of individuals who are actually disabled – while handlers of service dogs do see their canine companions as friends and pets, the truth is that these dogs are actually medical equipment. In order to be a legitimate service dog, the dog has to be able to perform tasks which specifically mitigate a person’s disability. The more people try to fake service dog status with pet dogs, the more likely it is that disabled individuals and their assistance animals will feel the backlash in the forms of increased legislation and restriction of privacy and access.
- It is a violation of the principals of responsible dog ownership, and makes the world smaller for dogs and their people. Chad is not alone. The vast majority of dog owners I know wish that our country was more dog-friendly – that dogs were allowed in more shops, cafes, and public environments. The cultural sentiments behind such heavily restricted access for dogs and their owners are a reflection of the perception that dog owners are irresponsible and cannot be trusted to follow the rules. People who have fake service dogs reinforce this stereotype by proving it true – that we are a people not to be trusted – and directly contribute to restrictions on public access for all dog owners.
The key for pet owners being allowed more freedom to enjoy public areas and parks with our canine best friends is in being a responsible pet owner. It means following the law, even if you don’t like it. It means being a responsible citizen and using your actions and voting power to promote a user-friendly world for all dogs and their people. It means financially and otherwise supporting businesses and organizations which are dog-friendly.
It also means respecting the rights of disabled individuals and not buying into the scams of con artists who prey on well-intentioned, exceptionally devoted dog owners who just want to enjoy more experiences, in more places, with the dogs that make our lives so wonderful.