The Problem With Fake Service Dogs

Service dog
Alamy

The temptation to fudge the facts and say your pet is a service animal is obvious. With so many destinations sporting "No Pets Allowed" signs, dog owners often have to leave their animals at home, or if they're not willing to leave their four-legged friends behind, they're forced to skip shopping, eating out or staying at some lodging.

Even when dogs are allowed, there may be extra fees — but not for service dogs. No pet fees for motels and no baggage fees for airlines. Service dogs can ride beside their owner in the cabin of the plane, train or bus, and at no charge. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, businesses that serve the public must allow service dogs accompanying their disabled handler, even if dogs are not usually allowed. This applies to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis, stores, hospitals, theaters, health clubs, parks and zoos.

We'd all love to travel, dine and shop with our dogs. We know better than to leave our dogs in the car when we go inside a store, and we've heard horror stories about flying dogs in the cargo section. As a dog lover, have you ever wondered, "Would it really be so bad to just fudge the facts a bit and get Fido access as a service dog?"

Privileges of Therapy, Service and Other Types of Working Dogs

There are a variety of types of dogs who provide a service to their human handlers, and the different titles come with different permissions.

Service dogs have been trained to do things for their disabled partners that the humans could not do themselves, and therefore, they're allowed, by law, just about anywhere their handlers go, with a few exceptions.

A therapy dog, on the other hand, is trained to provide comfort to people, usually non-family members, in need of affection and interaction and is not an official service dog. There are specific certifications required for therapy dogs, but they are not entitled to any of the privileges of service dogs.

Somewhere in between these two fall emotional support dogs (ESD), who provide comfort for their handlers with a disability by their mere presence. They have no individualized training to perform tasks and don't qualify as service dogs, but they still have some access rights. They must be allowed in all housing and in airplane cabins. However, they are not entitled to enter businesses and other public places where dogs are usually prohibited, and owners may be required to present a signed note from a mental health professional stating the need for an ESD.

A psychiatric service dog (PSD) does qualify as a service dog. A PSD helps its handler cope with mental disabilities, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, anxiety disorder and schizophrenia. They might alert to panic attacks, help with mobility if the handler is dizzy from medication, remind the handler to take medication, interrupt self-mutilation, provide room searches or safety checks, or perform a variety of tasks specific to that handler’s needs. PSD teams are entitled to the same rights as other service dog teams.

What's the Harm in Faking It?

The owner of one fake service dog I know sees nothing wrong with what she's doing. Because her dog is well-mannered, she considers him a good advertisement for allowing service dogs in public places. But there are reasons good behavior isn't an acceptable reason in many establishments.

Believe it or not, some people don't like being subjected to other people's dogs, regardless of how cute and well-behaved those dogs might be. Not to mention, some people are allergic to dogs, and a canine-filled airplane cabin can make their flight miserable. Rentals that don't allow dogs often do so to protect their investment from damage, or other tenants from barking, but have no choice but to allow dogs claimed to be service dogs.

Worse, disasters can happen. Two service dogs were on a bus in Portland, Ore., when the larger one attacked the smaller one, killing it. The small one was a legitimate service dog, but the large one was an imposter.

Fake service dogs can misbehave to the point that the public resents real service dogs, attacking other dogs, jumping on people, knocking merchandise off shelves, relieving themselves indoors and more. As more fake service dogs make their way into public places, the people they affect have become more begrudging and suspicious of all service dogs. Businesses can ask the service dog to leave if it is disruptive or threatening, but not all realize that's an option.

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