If your social media feed is anything like mine, you’re seeing a lot of dog pictures during this pandemic. The more pups you click, the more show up on the feed. That can help ease some of the stresses coming along with this unprecedented time in our lives. Along with those pup pix, I am also seeing a lot of ads for service dog registries. It seems incredible that entities as blatantly dishonest can advertise so out in the open, but these are the days we are living in.
Many people with disabilities rely on dogs to help them participate more fully in daily activities. Trainers teach dogs to do an amazing variety of tasks, including leading vision impaired people, picking up dropped items, stabilizing people with balance or walking issues, alerting diabetics of changes in blood sugar, and many, many more. These dogs (and other animals) can be a life changer for people helped by their skills, but gray areas about their use allows shady people to get by with more dishonest use of pets and provides a market for criminals to thrive.
What is a Service Animal?
Let’s check the authority on the matter, the ADA. This is their definition in an answer to a FAQ on their website:
“Under the ADA, 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.”
As noted above, there are an incredible array of tasks those dogs may be trained to do, but, again according to the official website, “The dog must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability. (my italics for emphasis)
The need for training of specific tasks means that dogs that make you feel more relaxed, help ease your anxiety, let you feel less vulnerable do not fall into this category. In fact, the ADA goes to great lengths to differentiate between actual service dogs and emotional support dogs, comfort dogs, or therapy dogs.
Now here is where some things start to get hazy. There is no formal training requirement, such as a specific protocol. There is no requirement for the dogs to wear any identifying attire such as a vest or ID tags, and there is no registry for service dogs. Let’s repeat that last item. There is NO REGISTRY for service dogs. Websites that offer registration and online certification of service dogs are fraudulent. Even if they send you some printed ID or a so-called service vest, this is all window dressing to cover up the fact that they are taking money for a service that simply is not necessary and does not exist. It is not just the companies that are participating in fraud. Many people, fully realizing their dog does not meet guidelines, or unwilling or able to get a real service dog, will pay the fees with the hope that people they encounter will be sufficiently impressed by the documentation not to question their legality. Some real service dog groups believe that having such documentation is a tell that the dog is not qualified because most real service dog users are familiar with the rules.
On that note, there are only two questions that someone can ask if they feel a service dog is a fake:
1. Is this a service dog required because of disability?
2. What is it trained to do to mitigate the disability?
Additionally, if the animal behaves inappropriately, by disrupting business, behaving aggressively, interfering with other customers, or toileting inappropriately, then it doesn’t matter whether it is a service dog because it can still be excluded on the basis of “fundamental alteration” or “direct threat.”
If you use a service dog, do not support the businesses that prey on uninformed people with these fraudulent tactics. If you do not need a service dog, even if you feel that your emotional support dog provides you a valuable service, please do not support these businesses by trying to fake your way into taking your dog places. You are making it harder on people who truly need their working dog with them. You may also make life harder on yourself. Currently twenty-three states have laws on the books against using a fake service animal, with penalties of up to a thousand dollar fine and six months in jail.
In addition to the ADA, there are many state laws that may allow more leeway in what dogs are protected, and some industries have more lax guideline about what type of access they allow, so if you have questions, ask your local experts. You can also get more information at www.ada.gov or at www.servicedogcentral.org
Until next time, wear your face mask, keep your social distance, and get out there and do something with your dog!