“I’ve been thinking about getting my dog one of those vests so I can take him everywhere!”

The other day, a guy approached me while I was working and said, “I’ve been looking into getting one of those therapy dogs like you got there. I figure I can buy one somewhere, then I can have a buddy with me wherever I go just like you!”

Yeah, that actually happened. I bit my tongue and refrained from responding with, “Would you like an injured spinal cord to take with you everywhere you go, just like me, too?”

Reason #1 why that’s not funny:

The goofball that stuck his foot in his mouth – let’s call him Frank – was uneducated about the type of dog I have. Don’t worry; I cleared that up. In case you don’t know, therapy dogs are not covered by the ADA, and neither is the desire to “have a buddy.”

I hate to play the disability card, but…

I’m going to. Did you know that Service Animals are legally considered assistive devices, and that’s why they’re allowed in public places? Do you know what qualifies people for assistive devices? Disabilities. The law that allows people with disabilities to use dogs for help isn’t meant to be abused by people who don’t need it.

Reason #2 why that’s not funny:

People put a lot of time, money, and energy into being absolutely sure that Service Dogs are fit for their jobs. Even in organizations that breed for specific traits, often less than half of them are placed as workers (fear not, the rest have loving homes, and are certified as Therapy Dogs much of the time). When Frank bypasses all of the hard work and slaps a vest on an untrained dog, he compromises the credibility of the legitimate Service Dog community and makes the lives of those of us who rely on our dogs more difficult; especially those with invisible or less obvious disabilities. Frank and his untrained dog make everyone suspicious of a person who isn’t blind or in a wheelchair.

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

A couple of weeks ago, I was researching pet travel and I saw an article on how to get your pet dog onto airplanes with you under the guise of being an emotional support animal. There’s actually a consulting company dedicated to gaming the system; they charge people for advice on how to obtain medical justification, and they even endorse making up symptoms. (Emotional support animals aren’t covered under the ADA; however, the Air Carriers Act makes a special provision for them, so with the right medical documentation, they can fly in the cabin.)

Really? That’s worse than parking your Porsche in an accessible spot without a permit. In this case, Frank’s not necessarily creating a physical barrier, but he has the potential to create a social barrier, or even a legal one if he causes too much inconvenience for the wrong person or company. I was recently on a flight with a woman who had a medium sized dog in a travel crate a row ahead of Bright, Bryan, and me. It barked for the whole flight. Since she was in first class, no one could see her dog and Bryan and I were mortified at the idea that someone might think it was Bright.

Prove it.

One school of thought would suggest that we tighten up the rules around identification for Service Dogs, but this is a really complicated issue. In order to protect the privacy and dignity of people with disabilities, business owners can’t ask for detailed information about one’s disability. As far as the ADA is concerned, a statement from the handler that their dog is, in fact, a service dog is proof enough. As a person with a disability, I’d like to keep it that way; I answer enough questions about my “condition,” “injury,” or “disease,” as it’s called by prying strangers on any given day. Additionally, the ability of business owners to ask for information about a person’s disability opens the door to discrimination, which we have plenty of to begin with.

So, what’s the answer?

Integrity. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. When a person lies about having a disadvantage in order to benefit from whatever small perk may be associated with it, it diminishes the gravity of the situation for someone who has no choice. For example, people who pretend to be homeless and beg on freeway entrance corners: if I could trust that every person looking for a meal was really in need, I’d buy several meals a day. Unfortunately, I’ve heard too many reports of posers who put on some dirty clothes for an afternoon, collect a bunch of cash, and then hop into their sports cars and drive to their suburban parents’ homes where they live and play XBOX for free in the basements.

So keep this in mind, and hold people you know accountable: The actions of a few can make life more difficult for many. Don’t add insult to injury by taking advantage of the system that’s in place to protect us.

Check out the following related articles:

Fake Service Dogs, Real Problems

Fake service dogs: Pet owners exploit ADA loophole


21 thoughts on “Fake

  1. I should get a service dog so that Bright has a buddy wherever WE go 😉

    But really, there’s no excuse for abusing the system. Well put, Al!

  2. I can’t count the number of times I have been asked where people “can get a vest like that for their dog.”

    I have also read a number of article along the same lines, but they never come so straight to the point: integrity. Sadly, it is not something everyone has.

    • I think when it comes down to it, that if people understood what a real issue they were causing, they might think twice about the lying, but you’re right: not everyone has integrity. All we can do is beg them to find it.

  3. Adam Carrolla speaks often on his podcasts about how angry he’s become over all the fake “therapy dogs.” You did a nice job, here!

  4. LOVE this post! Just had a guy stop in the grocery store the other day saying “Them are nice dogs huh?” (yeah ‘them’) and when I said, “Huh?” he replied, “Service Dogs, I wanna get one, I’d like to have my buddy with me all the time.” Now, in all fairness I don’t “look” disabled (Judah is a medical alert dog) so this lulls people into a false sense of security when talking to me and for all I know this guy was actually disabled- but generally when I meet people with a legitimate reason for wanting a SD they tell me about it. I have even had people (guests at the resort I work at in the summer) tell me they got their dog a fake vest so they can bring him on the subway… I held my tongue, but barely- my poor boyfriend had to listen to me go off about it all night…

  5. So well said. And much nicer than the way I said it:). The issue and need is too important to clog it up with nonsense. And do these people think about how difficult this is on their untrained dog? A pet wants to be in familiar places, not the local coffee shop. It’s stressful on an untrained dog and not worth the deception. You have some great points here. Thank you!

  6. What a well written article. A friend of mine who is since deceased had a CCI dog and was incensed by all the fakes. The other day I was in a coffee shop and this large and loud family brought in a small dog in a stroller. The owner said “I’m sorry, dogs are not allowed inside” which was met with “he’s a service dog!” So the dog was allowed because I’m sure the owner was terrified of legal trouble or simply offending someone with a disabilty. Later on someone asked if they could pet the dog, to which the family said, “oh sorry he’s a little unpredictable.” A service dog is NEVER unpredictable. I had steam coming out of my ears. Argh.

  7. Pingback: Crazy. Part Two. | Help On Four Legs

  8. Just confirmed what I have suspected. I saw your spot on the evening news and especially loved the guy who called people “sheep” who don’t abuse the system. Well I’d rather be the kind of sheep that considers others rather than the ones who think they are entitled to whatever they want. I posted your blog on my Facebook page with the lead in…”I love my dog, but…”. Keep enlightening us!

    • Hey Mary – I appreciate your attitude on the subject. I know many people just don’t see the issue, and it’s totally infuriating. Thanks for sharing the story! Awareness is the best weapon against fraud.

  9. Pingback: Fake Service Dogs on NBC | Help On Four Legs

  10. I am from the UK and have a guide dog. Here ALL service animals come from well known organisations and are recognisable through harnesses or jackets. I really appreciate this system because it eliminates the kind of problems you are experiencing. I think I would be red face furious if people passed pets of as SA’s here! Great article!

  11. Thanks for your blog. I cannot TELL you how my blood boils when I see people out and about with their pug-a-poos wearing a homemade vest! Once, while I was leaving a restaurant, my Service Dog Florence was actually attacked as we by passed by, by a German Shepherd cross that came lunging out from under a table wearing a homemade service dog in training vest! I had a very long wait and miles of paperwork, not to mention a strenuous 2-week long boot camp, to get my wonderful helper. It shocks me sometimes when even people who should know better ask me where they can buy a vest like my dog’s. And social therapy dogs do not have public access, as any reputable training program is certain to emphasize to their students. It really makes me crazy. Once I actually said to someone that I would gladly exchange the vest for one of his lungs. That shut him up pretty quick! If people only realized how much time, effort, and cost goes into training an assistance dog, you’d think they would have a little respect. But they don’t…they just want the novelty of taking their dog with them into the grocery store or whatever. G-r-r-r!!!

    • I know exactly where you’re coming from. If you want to get a glimpse of the crazy insensitivity of folks who don’t understand, read comments on any mainstream news article on service dogs. Holy crap. People are ridiculous.

  12. I get the question about my dog’s harness all the time, she wears a red Ruffwear harness with multiple patches for diabetics. Usually when they ask about the vest I tell them the first thing they need to do is become disabled, try stepping out in the highway in traffic might work. When they say they are envious because my SPOO goes with me everywhere and they want one just like it, I say sure, first become a diabetic and then get back with me and we’ll get you hooked up. then you can be just like me, count your carbs and watch everything you eat or drink, go low and get rushed to the hospital, etc.
    You can be just like me and have a dog. that usually shuts them down.

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