Chances are you’ve been out at a restaurant, hotel, or grocery store and have seen dogs in service animal vests accompanying their owners. You may have even considered getting your dog one of those vests so readily obtained on Amazon (advertising that you can “take your dog anywhere”), and passing them off as therapy dogs.
Many people are now doing this, and what’s the harm?
Most pet owners would love to spend more time with our dogs, and bringing them along wherever we go sounds pretty good. But, at West Park Animal Hospital, we are here with a plea: Don’t pretend your dog is a service animal. Here’s why!
First, Some Definitions
First, let us clarify some of the definitions.
Service Dog – A service dog has received extensive training (up to 2 years) to be able to perform tasks and work that ease their handler’s disability. These tasks can include but are not limited to:
- Pulling a wheelchair
- Reminding their handler to take medication
- Picking up objects for people whose spinal injuries prevent them from doing so
- Recognizing an oncoming diabetic episode or epileptic seizure
- Assisting a blind person in moving safely
Service dogs s are permitted access to all public facilities and accommodations under the Americans with DIsabilities Act. They are therefore allowed into public areas, such as hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores, that otherwise prohibit dogs.
People are generally discouraged from interacting with service dogs while they are working, as not to distract them from their work. They wear special vests that identify them as working service dogs, and they are specifically trained to be unobtrusive, non-reactive, and well behaved.
Therapy Dog – Therapy dogs also receive training and provide people with therapeutic contact, usually in a clinical setting like schools, assisted living facilities, and hospitals. They are generally easy going and friendly dogs who like human interaction. They do not receive any special access, however, unless agreed to in advance by the facility.
Emotional Support Animals – Although emotional support animals are sometimes a part of a medical treatment plan, they are not considered service animals under the ADA. These animals may relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but they do not receive any special training.
The nuances of the difference between service and support animals are not well understood, and it is tricky to question someone on the validity of the need for a service animal. There are no special certification papers or even a certifying body for these animals. The combination of these facts have made faking a service animal more and more common.
The Sad Truth About Fake Therapy Dogs
The sad truth is that faking a service animal or therapy dog diminishes their recognition. Service dogs are so highly trained that they don’t eat off of restaurant tables, don’t greet other dogs or people, and, in general, are unobtrusive to the point that you might not even know they’re there. Sadly, some of the imposters have service dog vests, confusing business owners and giving true service dogs a bad name.
Unless your dog is trained as a service animal, it’s wrong and may have legal ramifications to pretend otherwise. People who depend on a service dog to live a functional life are falling under unfair suspicion because of an epidemic of fakes. Of course, we all would like to be able to take our beloved pets with us everywhere we go, but not at the risk of making life more challenging for someone with a true disability.
With so many beaches, cafes, restaurants, and hiking trails in our fair city that welcome dogs, there are many opportunities to take your dog with you and still play by the rules. For more information on service and therapy dogs, please don’t hesitate to contact us.