Despite appearances, not all service dogs are legit.
America Now reached out The Dog Knowledge to learn more about “fake” service dogs. Check out the video that aired this morning!
Read the transcript below:
About 50 million people live with at least one disability, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports most of us will need one at some point in our life.
Service dogs come in all shapes, sizes and breeds. They help the disabled live an independent life.
Most of us have seen one wearing a special vest, collar or harness. What you may not realize is that some of these dogs are actually wearing a bogus badge and are not service dogs at all.
Fake service dogs are an unfortunate trend that continues to rise, and they’re not doing a service to those who really need them because the fake ones create safety, health and legal problems for businesses and communities.
Greater awareness will help stop the trend and here’s how you can spot one.
Trained to signal, Brio helps her handler spot the smallest trace of peanut to prevent an emergency.
Scarlett can save the life of her diabetic human by scent detection of high and low blood sugar.
Ivy is trained to do the everyday tasks that someone with a mobility disability couldn‘t do alone.
Improving someone’s livelihood or saving their life is every service dog’s job.
But it’s one easily impersonated by household pets because of unethical owners trying to reap special privileges by duping the public.
“I’ve seen a service pig, I’ve seen a service cat, I’ve actually seen a service parrot,” said Debbie Lange who is with The Dog Knowledge, a members only fitness, training and social club for dogs.
Chances are, you’ve seen a fake service animal, too.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) considers the use of a fake service dog a federal crime and in some states the offense is punishable with fines. Even though it may be regarded as a crime, it’s hard to enforce because a phony dog, or any other animal, is hard to detect.
“Technically, they don’t even need to wear a vest,” Lange pointed out.
Many fake service dogs wear fake vests which appear legitimate because it’s easy to purchase authentic-looking insignia collars, badges, identification cards and jackets online.
They can be put on nearly any household pet to help owners get them onto flights for free, or into places in which they would otherwise be banned.
For disabled individuals who rely on their service dog for independence, it is upsetting to hear about others who use fake service dogs or animals for their own personal gain.
Adam Phillips suffers from seven debilitating chronic conditions and his service dog, Finn, is his constant companion.
“It demeans what we’re going through, it demeans our struggle, it demeans the gift that these dogs really are to us,” Phillips said.
Not only does Finn fetch dropped items, he also guides Phillips’ wheelchair.
To train his canine, Phillips could have called any one of the countless service dog trainers or companies out there, but not all of these trainers are qualified to do this type of work.
“I would be highly suspect of any website where they said — ‘Bring your dog and stay with us for two weeks, for $2,000 and we’ll teach your dog,'” and Lange cautioned, “It takes months and months to get a dog to this point.”
Instead, Phillips found The Dog Knowledge whose experts train and test the dogs they certify on site to ensure their abilities. Unlike so many other dog trainers charging to certify any kind of dog, The Dog Knowledge required Phillips to verify his condition with a letter from a physician who specializes in treating Phillips’ disability.
“I carry paperwork with me everywhere I go of his [Finn’s] certification, and a letter from my doctor because I am proud of what he [Finn] does, and he is a part of this with me and he has done the work, he has done the training and he is legitimate,” Phillips stated.
Carrying this kind of documentation isn’t legally required and, unfortunately, fake paperwork is sold at a number of places on the internet.
A fast way to identify an imposter is by remembering that the Department of Justice only recognizes a dog as a service animal. Unlike a therapy or emotional support animal, it must be trained to do tasks directly related to a person’s disability.
Business owners and employees can always ask an owner if their canine is a real service dog, but the law only allows two questions to protect people’s privacy.
“Is this a service dog, and what service does it provide?” Lange added.
That’s about all you can do unless the dog becomes disruptive or dangerous which is usually a dead giveaway for a fake dog.
“Typically, a service dog is going to walk in a calm manner because they are a working dog, they are not a toy,” she said.
While a true service dog is strictly at their handler’s side, phonies wearing a vest have been seen biting, sniffing around, pulling, barking and using a business as their bathroom creating health, safety and legal issues all because of a pet owner who seized an opportunity intended to maintain the livelihood for millions of others.
“Don’t abuse a system that was put in place for honorable intentions,” Phillips said. “We work hard, we pay what we have to, we do what we have to, to feel legitimate.”
Many service dog trainers and organizations are calling for official registration agencies and standard identification cards to help weed out all the fakes.
While not all owners may be trying to take advantage and may feel their need is legit, the Department of Justice says animals whose function is to provide emotional support, comfort and well-being for things like anxiety and depression are not considered legit service dogs and are therefore not protected by the ADA’s rules.