By Brian Fischler
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website defines service animals as
dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people
with disabilities. That’s a very clear, concise definition.
So why does an online ad elsewhere read, “Identification for your service dog will reduce conflict. Get yours before the law changes!”
It’s never surprising what you can find for sale online. A Google search produced a multitude of different service/emotional dog kits for sale from
several different small companies. These kits will provide tags for your dog claiming they are a service or emotional dog, identification for you and your dog as a service dog, and a service dog vest.
What is shocking is that even major online retailers offer links to companies selling these dog kits. Even more shocking is that anyone can just
as easily purchase a harness for their dog of the type that a blind person would use with their guide dog.
It’s hard to comprehend that people would fake a disability to take their dog on vacation with them. “I receive plenty of calls from people who do not have disabilities, but are going out of town and need to take their dogs with them.
They are looking to find out where they can get certification,” says Jose Lopez, director of communications for The Lighthouse of Broward County, Florida.
Becky Barnes, past president of Guide Dogs Users, Inc., has also fielded calls over the years from people looking to get their dogs certified as
To this, Becky explains, “The best way to get certification is to go through a proper training program. The law does allow for individuals to train their own dogs to be service dogs, but I wouldn’t recommend it, as the individual
needs to be matched with the appropriate dog.”
Purchasing a service dog certification or an official looking ID through one
of these companies doesn’t make your dog a service dog, and these companies
are causing havoc for legitimate service dog handlers.
Lopez said, “People with legitimate service dogs are being questioned more
than ever, and their fear is that they will have to carry around
identification stating their disability.” Barnes added, “Currently, 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.”
The current law doesn’t require service dog handlers to carry around any
Barnes also added, “I think the fear of service dog handlers is that they
will be questioned even more. Right now our rights are very clearly stated
by the ADA.
Bev Klayman, manager of admission services for Guiding Eyes for the Blind
has her suspicions about illegitimate service dogs. “I’ve seen dogs with
service dog tags misbehaving and acting aggressively in public. The general
public cannot differentiate between dogs that have been legitimately trained
to be service dogs (and those that have not). These illegitimate service dogs are causing
scenes and causing a bad representation of service dogs.”
One area where service dog handlers are running into a lot of trouble is
with the airlines. With heightened security at airports, service dog
handlers are receiving even more scrutiny. On a recent trip to the airport,
Becky was told by the clerk at the check-in counter, “That’s not a service dog. Service dogs
don’t wag their tails!”
It definitely is never dull for service dog handlers. You never know what
you will hear next. Considering the times we live in, one would expect to
get hassled at the airport, as a little bit of a hassle goes a long way to
making us feel safe and secure. So you could imagine Jose Lopez’s surprise on a recent
flight when he was flipping through the Sky Mall magazine, and what did he
come across? An advertisement in the magazine selling a service dog kit to
take your dog with you wherever you go!
Becky Barnes said, “Currently, these companies aren’t breaking any laws.
“With service dogs there doesn’t seem to be a white and black area but a
huge gray area.” She added, “Discussions have begun to make it a misdemeanor to
misrepresent your dog as a service dog. Unfortunately, it is being taken as
seriously as pirating music.”
[Note: while it is not illegal for companies to sell items to identify service
dogs, in many states it is illegal for someone to pretend to have a protected
disability in order to gain access for their pet dog in places where it
would otherwise be banned. – Ed.]
2013 Cesar Millan, Inc.