JoAnna Lou
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Unethical or Responsible Pet Care?
Playing service dog to travel first class.

The legitimacy and training of service dogs has come up a lot recently, and many of the cases do not have clear solutions. But what about when someone is consciously taking advantage of the privileges granted to service dogs?

With the USDAA Cynosport World Games coming up in Scottsdale, Ariz., I’ve been talking to many of the local competitors about how they’re traveling with their dogs. Some are caravanning in their RVs and others are reluctantly putting their pups in cargo. 

One of the more seasoned competitors mentioned that while she dutifully puts her dogs in cargo, she always sees fellow competitors passing their pups off as service dogs on the plane.

I understand the appeal of having your dog fly with you, safe and sound. It’s certainly a tempting option, and probably in your pet's best interest, but it seems to me like an abuse of the system.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with service dogs, which the federal government defines as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. They don’t need to be licensed or certified by the government, nor are they required to show any identification to prove a medical condition or the dog’s capabilities (although many companies sell authentic looking certificates for a hefty fee).

The flexibility designed to help the disabled also allows the law to be easily abused. These well-meaning people have their pup's best interest in mind, but are also unknowingly undermining legitimate service dogs.

What’s your take?  Is playing service dog unethical or responsible pet care?

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.


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Submitted by Anonymous | March 26 2011 |

The law states you do NOT need your service dog certified. Yet some guidelines stipulate your dog must have an identification. Not to be FAKE but to identify to bystanders that this is a needed convenience not just someones pet. Because you WILL get some idiot trying to bring his rambunctious mongrel onto a plane. Somepeople need to SEE an identifier becasue they are incapable of assuming that a dog in a strange place is probably "needed".

Submitted by Anonymous | April 22 2011 |

Give me a break people!... the Law does state that you do NOT need to have your dog reistered/certified. And just because you have a "real disability doesn't mean you are not going to be allowed to have your sd's anymore I just can't believe how upset people are about this... My do is a companion dog and I have said that manytimes to get into places. so f you for being such haters! cry babies who cares if someone pretends I really don't see it affecting anything at all~!

Submitted by Anonymous | August 21 2011 |

You may feel differently if you or someone you know is bitten by an unsocialized, untrained dog that someone brings into public against the law. Without laws, what would stop everyone from bringing any dog at any time into any establishment? You might get a little irritated by a dog peeing on the floor while you are trying to eat! Dogs are pets, even companion dogs, and belong at home unless trained to perform a task for someone with a legitimate disability. Even then, there are rules for the comfort and safety of society.

Submitted by Anonymous | April 27 2013 |

How is a dog peeing or pooing or barking or whatever any different from a baby crying or filling its diaper while you try to eat? I have pet dogs I take with me places. I don't take them inside places that don't allow dogs. But we go to restaurants and sit on the patio, we go to the nursery and other dog friendly shops and they are not anything but quiet and ignore strangers. My dogs are pet dogs and they are well trained. Maybe instead of the fake service dogs places need to simply start allowing pet dogs with the behavior exception. Then a bad dog could be easily asked to leave since people would not have to pretend their pet is a service dog. Obviously many people would like to take their dogs with them everyplace, and many many dogs are very good and would go anyplace and be good. So why not simply start making more places pet dog accessible and prevent fake service dogs via access for all.

Submitted by Anonymous | April 25 2011 |

I use a "Toy Poodle" for "Seizure Alert" ( have always been Petrified of large dogs)..when traveling she is in a Soft Carrier... She works great when the Time Arises! I keep her in a soft carrier when shopping,etc.I feel she is for My Needs and Not for peoples Oh's and Ah's. and I DO Love her very much, but the soft carrier keep her from people pettings..She is VERY Quiet, unless working, and most dont even realize she is with me.. I don't resent being asked IF she is a Service Dog..it helps Seperate the FAKE SD who
can DISTRACT in a place of business, usually with their BARKING !
recently encountered a man and Pit Bull in grocery store, he had Service Dog tag..and the dog was WALKING HIM around the store.
The man was Struggling to hold the dog back.. That was obiviously FAKE !

Submitted by Anonymous | June 10 2011 |

just returned from a trip to Europe with my dog, who flew in the cabin with me as my service dog. I don't have to prove to anyone, or provide any documentation to anyone,period! about why I consider my dog a service dog. I am not required or obligated to discuss my personal life or medical condition with anyone. I do agree that people who fly show dogs as service dogs are seriously creepy, and I do believe it is unethical to pass off a pet as a service dog to cheat the airlines. But it was my impression, as a previous poster said, it's really not all that common. The desk personnel at the airline I flew on hardly knew what to do when i presented myself and my dog for check in. I had made reservations for him well in advance, and everything went very smoothly. I did my homework, looked up al I needed to know from the ADA and the airlines website, and was totally in compliance with the laws. But I won't be bullied into having to justify my personal life to anyone. My dog helps me in many ways to live a happy and healthy life, which is what a service dog does for anyone, and I am not obligated to explain further.

Submitted by Anonymous | August 21 2011 |

It seems that you would be proud to let people know what kinds of tasks your dog can do for you. You do not have to go around telling people what your disorders are, but you can brag about how your dog is trained to perform specific tasks for you (which is required to be a true service dog). Consider it a compliment when people want to know more about your dog and why you have him. People get suspicious if they ask questions and you refuse to answer. While it is not legal for a place of business to ask about your disorders, they can legally ask what tasks the dog is trained to perform and you need to be able to answer honestly. If he just makes you feel good and comforts you, he is not a service dog, but rather a therapy dog and does not qualify for public access.

Submitted by Anonymous | January 8 2013 |

This is my first time on a flight and I plan on bring my ESA Dog.... That means he is an Emotional Support Animal... NOT A THERAPY DOG!!! My dog is trained to keep me from loosing it in public... before him I was unable to go to any store, I would drive miles just to go to the same gas station. If I was at the gas station and someone started taking to me I will have to run out and hide in my car till I could being myself to go back inside. I lived most of my life alone in my house. Thanks to my ESA Dog I am now able to shop at Walmart and even go to the mall.

ESA Dogs do not have all the rights of a service dog and ESA dogs do not have to have any training for a specific task, just the fact that the dog is there helps you function in the world.

However with all this said I did put my ESA Dog thru almost a year of training and have brought him to tons of places to learn how to react to differnt events. People ask me alot what he is used for and I always explain but it always makes me feel like something is wronge with me because I need an ESA Dog. I like the fact that when they see his badge they usually just state that he is a nice looking dog and that they love his jackets. My ESA Dog is a Chinese Crested(hairless).

My point is that Therapy dogs are not the same as ESA dogs, and should not be dismissed as a type of Service Dog.

Submitted by reine adelaide | August 9 2011 |

The Bigger Issue

With little exception dogs/animals are considered property and have no legal rights--and globally there are virtually no exceptions. Because of our inability or lack of desire to accommodate other animals, they are the ones who suffer most because of our limitations.

Legally and as stated in the article, any dog's companion must simply state that it is a service animal. And, fortunately at this time, no "proof" is necessary, (making the vest unnecessary, a waste of money and insulting to people with disabilities). This lack of proof/legal limitations actually allows us the freedom to be accompanied and loved by beings most of us consider family. And for many of us, these beings could be the extent of our family.

Perhaps people with disabilities should have the final say regarding the definition of service animals, however, EVERYONE would benefit greatly from animals having a bigger presence in society. Obviously, dogs who would otherwise be left in cars or home alone all day, would welcome the freedom. But without a doubt, OUR animal need for animal contact is undeniable, desirable and even necessary.

(And for those who do not wish to associate with certain animals; they don't have to. Even large animals can be kept well within a six foot radius of personal space. And there are already laws in place that protect people from aggressive or unleashed animals--that's nothing new.)

As to "The legitimacy of all service animals comes into question when people try to pass off their dogs as service animals" is a curious concern because if you are a person with a disability why would you assume that you may not be accompanied by your service animal? These limitations are generated by the fear of losing WELL ESTABLISHED LEGAL RIGHTS and there is no basis for that whatsoever. As a matter of fact, the more visible and accepted animals are in every facet of daily life only strengthens the status and legitimacy of ALL animal presence.

Here we have a personal freedom that brings incalculable happiness and health benefits to society and too often, especially as americans, we are ready to criticize, regulate and limit our/animals freedoms because of fear. My hope is that we all can celebrate and promote the inclusion of all animals in our human society and learn to respect that they have as much right to exist here as we do.

We tend to measure fairness and legislate according to our rights when the much bigger issue is the cessation and relief of suffering for all beings. No one will ever convince me that animals do not suffer; and suffer as greatly as we do. I believe that we humans are bound by our privilege and resources to care and provide for the live's of the animals we affect so profoundly. "The measure of society is how it treats it's poor, it's wretched, those yearning to be free…"

Submitted by Beltrani | September 22 2011 |

I was on a flight from SanFran to New York in Business Class. The woman next to me had a Standard Poodle and across the aisle was a Jack Russell. The Jack Russell barked and snarled the whole flight which caused the Standard Poodle to whimper, then pee, then poop. I'm not sure what the disability of either of the owners was - but heard both whispering to their traveling companions about "getting caught". I paid several thousand dollars for the flight and wound up in doggy hades because these dogs were obviously not trained to behave properly. I've been on many flights and see more an more service dogs. It's not about the rights of the dog owners, it's about common courtesy. Service dogs are specially trained animals that don't often stress out in strange situations. People who abuse the system will cause the demise of it for everyone.

Submitted by Anonymous | April 27 2013 |

I would rather travel with a pair of snarling dogs than with babies. Took a flight from Phoenix to DC and there were 10 babies on the plane. 10!! No sooner would one stop crying than the other started and then they would fill their diaper and the poor mother has no choice but to change the kid there in her lap or on the tray table and then there is the reeking diaper stinking up the plane. Until they start making baby-free and then family friendly (with a changing table and diaper genie) flights I say let the dog ride in the cabin but make people buy a seat for anything too big to fit in a lap and maybe even ask owners to put diapers on their dogs just for sanitary reasons and maybe for the comfort of the dog too.

Submitted by Ronald Hofmeister | January 29 2013 |

Dear Sir,
I just wanted to commit on Fake Service Dogs. I lived in Honolulu, Hawaii up till 2011 & there were so many fake dog in Hawaii you couldn't believe it. I asked men & women at a Waikiki how they got the Fake Dogs they said go to the Dod Pound & get a Certain breeds of dogs which they knew. And then go Doctor Shopping & they gave me a list of Doctor's that would help me out I threw the paper away. The men told me go to those certain Doctor's & they would write you up letters the way you told the Doctor's what wording to put on there letterhead & they also said you will get a RX Prescription that says certain words for a Service Dog. It's like taking candy from a baby there are so many dishonest doctors in Hawaii. Also I witnessed in a Doctor's office a lady telling another lady how easy it to get her Fake Service Dog that lady gave me a piece of paper with a name & Telephone Number on it I just threw it away. I know her dog was a Fake Barking at people & jumping on people a trained service Dog wouldn't do that.she had the works on her fake dog the Harness With Handle & all the Patches sown on. The leather collars & leads that had engraved on them Service Dog. I know this is going on all over the country but any place is scared of people using the ADA Law thrown up in there faces. I just wanted to get my 2 cents worth in on all this fraud going on everywhere.

Submitted by Alexis Grilliot | February 18 2014 |

I have an American Staffordshire terrier (pitbull) as a service animal for ptsd and anxiety. If i didnt have her i would literally not be able to even do the basic grocery shopping without having a panic attack in the parking lot. It took me a very long time to be able to have my service dog trained and me approved by the doctors so we could be legitimate. I cant stand going to the store and seeing fake service dogs act out and go after mine. My opinion, no one should ever fake a service animal. I get questioned all the time even when my service dog wears her vest and her tags. Fake service dogs make it so hard for people with real ones.


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