Most people in the United States love dogs. They’re easy to love since they love you right back; when you come home they leap with joy just at the sight of you. And then you see people out and about with service dogs — wait, these people get to hang out with their dogs all day? This thought alone has contributed to the huge amount of people faking service dogs or exaggerating existing but minor issues to justify getting a service dog for themselves.

You get to fly with your dog. You get to go to the mall with your dog. You get to go to hotels and restaurants with your dog. It sounds great, but it’s against the law and it hurts real service dogs out there.

In order to legally have a service dog, you have to have a disability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines it this way:

… a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.  The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”

This means that emotional support and/or therapy dogs are NOT legally considered service dogs, and so they are not covered under the same laws. If you have an emotional support dog then that is completely understandable, but don’t expect people to give them the same open-arms treatment that they legally have to give actual service dogs.

Before we go into exactly why it hurts the service do industry, I’d like to address an issue within the veteran community. For my fellow veterans: if you’re rolling around with an unnecessary service dog, you are further contributing to the idea that veterans are fragile victims that signal to everyone around them how big of a victim they are. It seems like everyone is vying to play the public victim, and veterans have been just as guilty of this in recent years — let’s not add dogs to the mix. If it’s a tool for a real disability, then by all means embrace everything a service dog has to offer.

But of course, this is a problem across the U.S. as people quite reasonably want their dogs at their sides at all times. However, real service dogs undergo an immense, rigorous training regimen. When a “service dog” hasn’t undergone much training, it’s likely that they’ll cause disturbances of some kind in public areas. That dog is giving service dogs everywhere a bad name, because people don’t know that it’s fake. That patron will be less inclined to provide good service the next time a real disabled person comes by. Sure, they’re legally bound to allow the dogs there, but you’re willfully making it that much harder for, say, a blind person who literally relies on this dog for their daily life.

It can also damage the public’s natural instinct in how they interact with service animals. If the alleged “service dog” is just a pet, the owner might encourage others to come up to it and interact with it. A real service animal is not a pet, it’s a tool (don’t worry, they get plenty of love and affection when they’re off work) used by legitimately disabled people to live a more active and regular life. Service dogs should not be interacting with anything beyond their work until they’re off the clock and at home.

And if the fake service dog gets around a real service dog? Well, even the most well trained dogs aren’t infallible, and now you’re providing an unnecessary distraction in a mall, city street, airport or other area where that service animal is actually there for a reason — a service dog for a person with diabetes needs to be focused and sense low or high blood sugar for their owners. Distracting them from that crucial duty can be quite dangerous for the owner.

A waitress at the Macaroni Grill in South Portland, Maine, talks to customer Sean McDonough with service dog Bruno at his side. McDonough suffered brain injuries in a car crash in 2008 and depends on Bruno to keep him calm in public settings. When McDonough is stressed, Bruno will lean against him. Businesses are so fed up with the fakes that those of us with legitimate service dogs are being scrutinized and discriminated against, McDonough said. | AP Photo/Tom Bell

Kenna Milaski, a guide dog puppy raiser and dog trainer, told SOFREP, “People just spread the idea that you buy a vest for your pet, say it’s a service dog and bring it into public places and they have to let you — no questions asked … it doesn’t work that way, and it hurts the people who rely on service dogs with their lives.”

I get it. I love my dog and would love for him to be around me at all times. I have a disability rating from the VA, but I am not disabled. And I do not intend to break the law, or justify to myself that somehow I really do need a service dog (when I don’t). The service dog industry is an incredible tool for the disabled, and I would not be a part of damaging it in any way.


Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.

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