A client demanded a letter stating her dog was a service dog because she hated leaving him at home. When I refused, she said she would find another trainer who would write a letter.
I informed her no ethical trainer would help a client fake a service dog. Even if she went online and bought a service dog vest and a mail order certification, the behaviors she permitted in her dog were taboo for a service dog. Any employees who knew their rights and the laws could have the dog removed from a business. Luckily her children heard the discussion, stepped in and put their foot down.
Yes, there are many people who are willing to state a pet is a service dog. There are others who confuse emotional support or therapy dogs with service dogs. Let’s look a little closer.
Emotional support and therapy dogs: These dogs provide emotional support to a person or persons. The dog may have a certification for therapy work, but this is not the same as being a service dog. Even if a doctor recommends a pet to help with stress, anxiety or loneliness, this does NOT make the dog or any animal a service animal. Emotional support and therapy dogs (or other animals) do not have public access rights to places service dogs are allowed. Neither type of dog is required to perform a specific, trained task for a specific person. However, there are situations where they may be permitted in certain housing where pets are not allowed. For more on this, visit https://therapypet.org/emotional-support-animal-information.
Service dogs: From the Americans with Disabilities Act, “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”
Disabilities may range from physical to psychiatric. Psychiatric Service Dogs are specially trained to assist the handler with symptoms of the disability. The key words are specially trained. With a few exceptions, service dogs with their handlers are permitted in areas a regular pet would not be allowed. For a list of places service dogs are permitted, visit http://servicedogcentral.org/content/faq/63.
When a dog and handler are in a business, employees are only allowed to ask two questions: is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and what task/work has the dog been trained to do. Even if you answer these, be aware there are protections for businesses to have any service dog removed if certain things happen. For more information on service dogs and business owners’ rights, visit http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm and http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm.
Currently 19 states including Virginia have laws addressing those misrepresenting your pet as a service dog. In Virginia faking a service dog can result in fines up to $250.Though it is difficult to prove if a dog is a legitimate service dog or not, I am asking pet owners to please respect the law. There is a reason many places are not pet friendly. I have written about it in the past and will cover the topic again in the future.
Instead of passing pets off as service dogs, maybe we should work to make our canine companions the best we can so more places will become pet friendly.