Denver - August 14, 2013
I have something positively shocking to tell you, so please sit down.
I can hardly bring myself to tell you this, but here goes:
Some people are buying fake service dog vests online and passing off their pet dogs as service dogs.
Horrible, right? I know you're as stunned as I was to hear this. But it's true.
Look, I'm not totally naïve. I work in TV news, after all. We get scads of calls and emails about all kinds of scams: secret shoppers, work-at-home jobs, fake lotteries, rental properties, etc. We've done stories on nefarious people who fake cancer or other maladies to get sympathy and money. There's always someone trying to get away with something, but FAKE SERVICE DOGS?
Ah, come on Jeb - you're overacting, you say. What's the harm? Just cuz I want to take Fluffy to the restaurant with me on Saturday, no big deal. As my friend David says, "What could possibly go wrong?"
The Department of Justice in the Americans with Disabilities Act defines a Service Dog as "one that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability." Real service dogs train for two years or more to become proficient. They perform tasks for their partners, such as picking up dropped items, guiding, alerting to noises, interrupting and/or redirecting compulsive behaviors, opening doors, handing over the credit card to the cashier…. the list goes on and on. Real service dogs are trained to be unobtrusive in public as they go about their work. They do not bark, lunge, snarl, snap, eat food off tables (or even the floor!), jump on people, climb on furniture, sniff the merchandise, howl at concerts, toilet inside or otherwise cause a disturbance. Working dogs work, plain and simple.
Now, let's imagine a pet dog in public. Say, for example, Meryl, our sweet, goofy Great Dane. She gets really excited seeing new people and she bounces like Tigger. She tries to kiss little kids. She enthusiastically snouts adults. Sometimes tall men scare her and she pees submissively. Her tail is a lethal weapon, long and whip-like. She could easily swipe an entire shelf clean at the grocery store with two wags. She thinks any piece of furniture is for her personal use, so imagine her climbing onto the seat in your booth at a restaurant. She is easily flummoxed by stairs, never mind an elevator. She is unenthusiastic about getting in our Honda; I can't imagine her getting onto the Light Rail. But she's SOOO CUTE! Who wouldn't want to see her out and about? You, that's who. She's not a bad dog; in fact, she's a pretty good dog, but she's certainly not service dog material.
Oh, you say, but MY dog is different, my dog is so well-behaved and she just loves going out with me! Really? Look, there's well-behaved and there's bomb-proof. Remember, only about 35% of CCI dogs graduate because we have to be darned-near perfect, ready for anything and dependable 99.9% of the time. There's the Boy Scouts and then there's the Marine Corps Special Forces. See the difference?
Often the dogs who don't graduate as service dogs don't want to work. Think about that for a minute: we, who are specially bred and trained for service, choose not to work because we don't like it. And service dog trainers recognize this and don't force us! So what makes you think your precious Fluffy likes it? Being out in public is confusing and stressful. There are lots of new scents, sounds and sights, and a dog can easily be overwhelmed. While you think Fluffy is having the time of her life with you at that big box store, Fluffy may be closing her eyes thinking, "Please take me home to my comfy bed and a quiet house. PLEASE."
But the main reason someone shouldn't do this is HE OR SHE DOES NOT HAVE A DISABILITY. It's the PERSON who has access rights, not the dog. The dog is a tool for the person, like a wheelchair or crutches or a hearing aid. Pretending a pet is a service dog just so it can go to the store or on the airplane is deceptive, selfish and shameful. Fake is fake, lying is lying, and it's wrong. Those who pass off pets as service dogs are doing a disservice to the people who really need them, jeopardizing access for people with legitimate service dogs.
Canine Companions is asking people to take action to urge the Department of Justice to crack down on the sale of fake service dog products by signing the letter at http://www.cci.org/stopfraud. Take a look, please? Dog bless you!
Chow for now!