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I was very upset after reading an article about the “latest accessory” being a “fake service dog.” Being the proud mom of two certified therapy dogs, having volunteered at training sessions with Freedom Dogs in San Diego and given talks at the local VFW post on the difference between service dogs and therapy dogs and the need for more PTSD dogs to become available for our returning veterans, I know how much time and effort it takes to train a service dog.   I was infuriated to read about how many people are acting very selfishly and irresponsibly by passing off their dogs as service dogs because they just want to and it is so easy to buy fake service dog vests and patches.

The article titled “This Fall’s Hottest Accessory: Fake Service Dogs?” by Julie M. Rodriguez points out that many people are passing off their companion dogs as service dogs which makes it more difficult for real people with disabilities and their service dogs to be taken seriously and get through their day. Legitimate service dogs and their people are getting harassed at airports, restaurants and other public places, being denied access or asked to leave. What an outrage!

The ADA states that business owners are only allowed to ask if the dog is a service dog, and what they are trained to help with. It does not require handlers to carry any specific identification. But now these service dog handlers are being asked more and more questions which they fear might some day lead to have to carry specific ID stating their disability.

Service dogs have had to go through intensive training to perform tasks for people with disabilities or certain medical conditions.  It can take up to 2 or 3 years and a lot of money to do this.   When one of these illegitimate and fake service dogs acts up, misbehaves or causes a scene because it’s reacting to another dog or growling at strangers, that colors the view the general public has of a legitimate service dog.

As a therapy dog handler, I never abuse the privilege by passing my dog off as a service dog. Even though my dogs would behave well, I know not to cross that line where only service dogs can go.  A therapy dog provides emotional comfort therapy at hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, schools, etc.  A service dog is providing a service, performing tasks, or detecting changes in their handlers and alert them of an incoming seizure, etc., making life easier for their handlers.  Yet so many people out there, just because they want to take their dog with them everywhere they go, are getting vests and patches to make their dogs look like service dogs. Just Google “service vest for dogs” and you’ll get a number of companies pushing their merchandise to make your dog look like a real service dogs.  Shame on the companies that are profiting from this trend.

If you have ever been tempted to don a fake service vest on your dog just so you can take Fido with you on the airplane or into the movie theater, please don’t.  Put yourself in the place of a person with a disability that actually needs his or her service dog.  Now picture yourself being harassed by airport security or at a movie theater or restaurant because you are asked a million questions since the facility doubts the legitimacy of your service dog or because they have had a bad experience before with a fake service dog.  How would you like that?  Or picture yourself as the parent of a child with epilepsy or diabetes and the school will not allow your child to have her service dog with her.  How would you like that?  You wouldn’t.  Yet this is happening to good, decent folks everywhere because of the unscrupulous and selfish acts of some very self-centered dog owners.

We all love our dogs and some of us love our dogs more than we love people which I totally understand.  But to fake a service dog to indulge yourself is just plain selfish and inconsiderate, not to mention, dishonest.

Elena Flyer is a Californian owner and lover of animals: horses, dogs, birds – you name it! She is actively involved in the community whether through therapeutic dog visits to healthcare facilities, or volunteering at Labrador Rescuers.

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