We have already talked about Service Dog Etiquette, and if you haven’t read that you really should. It is probably the most important bit of information we have posted to date. In that post there were a few things I said I would touch on later. One was about people bringing non-service dogs into stores and restaurants. I had not planned to talk about this more just yet, but then I saw a headline on Huffington Post:
NOT COOL, PEOPLE! Not. Cool. Apparently it’s becoming a trend in NYC to get a fake service dog certificate for your pet so that you can take them anywhere you. Go ahead, click that link and read the story…I’ll wait.
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Yep. I didn’t make this crap up. And sadly, this happens everywhere, just not usually so many in the same geographical area. And this CHAPS OUR HIDE!!!
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE pets. Dan and I considered ourselves to be “professional dog stalkers” before we had Casper. The kids were trained to do this right: The youngest human puppy would run ahead (she is faster than us and not as shy as her sister) and ask the dog owner if we could pet the dog. Then we all caught up and got to pet it, too. It was great. I love seeing dogs out on walks with owners…as long as it is in an acceptable area. Outdoor malls, parks, beaches, farmer’s markets, etc… are full of these wonderful dog owners and it is great. It can be a little troublesome for us now since Casper is still working on his manners with other dogs, but when we are someplace where it is expected to see another dog we can be prepared. I dread the day we go into a restaurant or grocery store and there is another dog there. It will probably happen. And chances are the other dog is not actually a service animal.
The other problem I have with this is that it makes it harder for those of us who do have service animals to be respected by the public. Great Danes are not considered a ‘typical’ service dog breed so we are already confronted with some skepticism. When Dan’s legs are particularly tight there are fewer questions because his disability is more visible, but other days people often don’t notice his different gait (thanks to Casper). We know many other SDP recipients who have less visible disabilities and I imagine they are faced with doubt as well. Then there are the people who have a very small breed service animal that is used for anxiety, seizure detection, autism, and any number of other issues that do not require a larger dog. I know that those dogs are often seen as not “real” service animals as well.
And here I have to make a confession. Yesterday we went to the grocery store. Just before we got out of the car I noticed a woman headed to her car with a TINY dog in a bag over her shoulder. I pointed it out thinking how cute it was, but I was desperately thankful that they were already done. As we were checking out a woman who works there mentioned a woman who was just in here with her little service dog. My first thought was, “Yeah, right!” Of course, I am very aware that it could have been a service dog. But, how do I know for sure? I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, yet I am suspicious because of how many people abuse the service dog designation. And little dogs are more likely to be used in this scam since they can be carried around easily.
The biggest problem is that there is no official way to prove a dog is a service dog or not. You can order service dog vests and ID cards online and do not have to show any type of proof. And truthfully, if there was it would probably prevent a lot of people from ever getting one. Service dogs cost a LOT of money to raise and train. Most people have to raise thousands of dollars just to get their dog. If there was some official designation you could go through then it would likely just raise the cost of these dogs. (Thank you, SDP, for making dogs so much more accessible for those of us who cannot raise that kind of money.)
Then there is one more issue I have with this whole crazy thing. Service dogs need to be attentive to their handler at all times while on duty. You throw another dog in the mix and it is trouble. Casper is a puppy so this is a HUGE problem for us, one of the only big problems we have, but even older service dogs can have problems with this. What if you were working and you knew you should not get distracted, but in walks Adam Levine (or Sofia Vergara for you guys) or whoever would make your brain empty of all real thought. That is kind of what it is like for a dog to see another dog. It is EXCITING!!!! A well-trained older dog might react more like seeing David Spade, you don’t really care about them at all, but it IS a celebrity in your workplace so that is pretty cool and quite distracting as well.
So here we are. I don’t even know where to go from here. I have vented, but how do we solve this? My hope is to get this information out there. I think if these people who are pretending to have service animals realized how much damage they are causing for real service animals they might think twice about doing this. Please share this post. Pass it along. Promote it. Please help us get the word out on all of our PSA Monday posts. Maybe together we can make a difference and educate some people.