Beware of that "Service Dog"

October 2, 2016




You love your dog, you want to take your dog with you on shopping excursions,  post office errands and the dry cleaner.  Putting an "official vest" on your pup does not make them a service dog, emotional support dog, or any other term that you use to make it seem legal to have your dog with you on airplanes, in the grocery store, or walking around the halls of a hospital visiting a friend.  


There are more and more incidences of fake service dogs acting inappropriately in public.  There are reports of aggressing real service dogs at hospitals, aggressing people who approached their owner at a conference,  and misbehaving on airplanes.  It is definitely not always easy to spot the real deal from a fake.


Most people know that it is not appropriate to come up and pet a service dog, however, even if you were to do that, a real service dog is not expected to snap or bite.  To add to the confusion of whether a dog is a legitimate service dog or not, is that the traditional breeds of Golden Retriever, Labrador, and German Shepherd are now being joined by mixed breed dogs from shelters.  Many business owners don't allow these nontraditional looking service dogs into their establishments, airlines don't believe them, cab drivers won't pick them up, but these shelter dogs are evaluated by trained professionals who are looking for dogs with good temperaments, many look for dogs over 50 pounds and are between one and two years old.  These dogs cannot be aggressive and they have to be able to help their future owners in wheelchairs, reach light switches that need to be turned on/off, and able to open doors. At restaurants you will find real service dogs quietly under the table or at least as inconspicuous as they can be.  Service dogs help people live their lives more independently and thus provide a great service when trained.


With the fakes and the business owners unaware, the ones who are getting the short end are the legitimate service dogs and their owners.  Colorado legislators were the latest state to pass a bill making it a crime to misrepresent a pet as a service animal.  The bill would impose a fine between $350 and $1000 for first time offenders.  Repeat offenders can reach up to $5000 plus community service work added on.


The "emotional support" animal classification has had a significant increase in activity.  This "certification" has " increasing acceptance on airplanes, many allowing service dogs to travel free with their owners, and in public spaces, assisting people with emotional issues, but creating confusion over the animals' official classification."  as reported in the Daily Beast.  


With so many categories of what a service dog is along with online stores that sell vests that range in price from $50 to $150, it is relatively easy to scam the system.  Papers that look like a doctor's note are available for an additional cost.


The solution is to properly educate businesses on how to spot a service dog and how to work with people who have service dogs.



credit:  Michele C. Hollow,



































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