Lots of years ago I met a service dog for the first time. I’d known for years about guide dogs but this was a hearing dog. Wow! I thought how wonderful! Over time I’ve met a number of service dogs:
- PTSD dogs (not always true Service Dogs)
- Medical Alert dogs
- Assistants to the disabled
One of the most remarkable was a dog named Christopher who belonged to a lady named Chris! He helped her with many manual tasks she could not manage on her own including putting on her socks!
We had two medical alert dogs. There are stories elsewhere in my blogs about the instances when one or the other of these dogs saved my husband Glen’s life so I won’t repeat them here. Both of these started life as simple family pets but showed remarkable instincts so I added training and we were able to have both accepted as service dogs. This is NOT usual! Because of the unusual circumstances, we did not press issues of service dog acceptance. I did shop at least once with each and each did find themselves under a table in a restaurant on occasion but we respected the process and training of service dogs too much to ever press the issue. It was rare either one went someplace a pet dog would not be accepted. The best compliment ever was a day when one of our dogs was with me in a restaurant. On the way out the waitress said ‘Oh! I did not know you had a dog with you!’ Yup – that is a mark of a well trained service dog.
Lately it has become a ‘thing’ for folks to get a vest and claim they have a service dog or even skip the vest. There are companies that will sell you a ‘certificate’ that says your dog is a service dog without any knowledge of you or the dog just that you paid the fee. I admit both of ours had such documents. We got them when the letters from Glen’s doctor and our vet attesting to the service our dog provided was not sufficient for the apartment(s) we lived in. They insisted on seeing a document from a ‘registering agency’ and even told me were on the web to go to get one! The action of the apartment management was not legal and showed a real lack of understanding of what a service dog truly is but it was easier to ‘fix’ the issue the way we did than fuss over it.
On the other hand, I strongly object to the fake service dogs that are roaming the world as well as the purse sized critters folks assume they can take anywhere they want. The ‘registering agency’ mentioned above and ones like it do NOT a service dog make! Unfortunately these businesses and the folks who stick a vest on their dog or say they must have the dog with them all the time but the dog is not actually a service dog are doing a terrible disservice to true service dogs. Because it is not legal to demand to see any kind of certificate they don’t get challenged. True service dogs are extensively trained on an ongoing basis.
Please note there is a difference between ‘dogs who provide a service’ and ‘service dogs’. We adore our companions and certainly the family pet gives love and company; they provide a service but are not service dogs. The cuddler who gives emotional support provides a service but is not a service dog.
One of the worst violations of the principle I’ve seen was a lady who insisted she had to have her dog with her at all times to support her emotional health. She held the dog on her lap at table and proceeded to feed it from her plate with a spoon! Not so gross but potentially damaging was the lady in the grocery store whose purse sized critter kept trying to leap out of the purse, snarling and snapping at every person who went by. The misbehavior of the fakes hurts acceptance of true service dogs.
To be defined as a service dog the dog has to do some action in support of a disabled person that they otherwise could not do. Well – that is the short version. Keyword – ‘for a disabled person’.
So why am I writing this? Please! do not go buy a ‘certificate’ from some ‘registering agency’ and/or a vest and claim you have a service dog! If I’d seen the epidemic of fakes coming I would have pushed the apartment management and NEVER gotten ‘certificates’ for either of our dogs. If the need for such things dries up hopefully the fake producers will vanish because there is no use for their business. We’d all be happier and service dogs would not be injured in the least but instead would be strengthened in their service.