By Tammy Moore Teague
It’s not that uncommon to see them in grocery stores, restaurants or on airplanes. The population of vested animals, generally canines, is on the rise. While legitimate service dogs come in all breeds, shapes, and sizes, they provide assistance to those who have disabilities. However, people are disguising untrained family pets as service dogs, complete with vests and identification cards. The increase in the number fake service dogs is creating real problems for legitimate teams.
We recently published a story about local resident, Shilo Schluterman, who suffers from PTSD. Through the program K9s for Warriors, she was paired with therapy dog, Javie. She, too, recognizes the growing problem of counterfeit service dogs and its impact on how people view the pair in public. Schluterman recalled an incident while shopping in the grocery store. “I was standing in the aisle shopping and I noticed a lady who appeared reluctant to reach around me,” Schluterman said. “She looked at me and said ‘will he bite’?”
This general lack of public understanding of Americans with Disabilities Act compounds the growing problem. A service dog is not legally required to wear a vest, patch, or carry any type of ID card, though many service dog teams do these things because it’s easier to just show a meaningless ID card when asked for one than it is to explain the laws. The ADA prohibits questioning a person about their disability and from asking for evidence of a service dog’s certification.
So, what makes fake service dogs such a big problem? Legitimate service dogs are well trained and a necessity to their handlers. They are trained to not be disruptive or cause a scene while in public. You will never see a service dog jumping up on people, barking or growling (unless alerting their handler to a problem), or even using the bathroom inappropriately. Fake service dogs are both a safety issue for the public and for legitimate service dogs. They negatively impact the acceptance and public opinion of service dogs and their disabled handlers.
Schluterman offered the following advice for interacting with service dogs in public. “If the vest is on, he (Javie) is working.” This is why, as she explained, it’s not a good idea to pet a service dog. “It will distract him, and take his focus off his job.”
In response to the growing problem, states are cracking down on the fraudulent act by attaching penalties to those passing off a pet as a service dog.