A listing on eBay for a vest similar to this one ignited a controversy.
No matter what you want to buy, eBay probably has it. Looking for an 1897 Pocket Kodak camera? What about a gold-plated mango fork? Or perhaps you seek a service dog vest about which the seller says, “Use this for your good puppy and take her shopping with you. May have to play blind or stupid, but you love your puppy.”
This listing, which is no longer up, angered many people. Those with disabilities or whose family members have disablities are offended by the suggestion that people should dishonestly claim that their pets are service dogs, when they are not specifically trained in that way. They are concerned about the harm this causes to people with disabilities. The legitimacy of all service animals comes into question when people try to pass off their dogs as service animals.
It can be difficult to know whether an individual dog is a service animal. There is not some simple way to identify them such as a government-issued identification card. Identification of a service animal or proof that an animal is in fact a service dog is not required in most cases, and a disabled person who is asked for proof of their animal’s qualifications or training does not have to provide it. (An exception is the airlines, which are able to request documentation or ask questions to verify that a dog is a service animal, under the Air Carrier Access Act.) If a person is asked to leave a business or denied service because they brought in a service animal, that person can file a legal complaint against the owner of the business for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act.
What do you think of the wording of the listing on eBay for a service dog vest? How do you feel about the apparently common practice of falsely claiming that a dog is a service dog?
For a discussion on the ethics of people pretending their dogs are service dogs so that they can fly in the cabin of the airplane rather than having them travel in cargo, see JoAnna Lou’s blog Unethical or Responsible Pet Care.
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.