Please Stop Using Your Pet As a Fake Service Dog

By assisting with everyday tasks that would otherwise be impossible, a service dog can drastically improve an individual’s quality of life, and for that, there is no substitute. Unfortunately, though, there are people who take advantage of the system, and it needs to stop.

If you’ve noticed a recent rise in dogs being allowed to go wherever they want, you’re not alone. Nowadays, there’s little in place to prevent someone from turning their beloved pet into a look-alike support or service animal. Sadly, this kind of behavior is ruining the system for everyone else, and here’s how.

1. How the ADA defines a service dog

Autism Service Dog

This service dog helps the little boy who has autism. | Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images

First things first, it’s important to understand what the term really means. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”

So, the main takeaway here? One of the requirements of a service dog is that the owner has a disability, and the dog has been trained to assist with that disability. Anything short of that doesn’t make for a service dog.

Next: Service dogs aren’t there for your enjoyment. 

2. Service dogs are not pets

Man with service dog

Service dogs have a job to do. | Jfbenning/iStock/Getty Images

Most people are well aware that running up to a service dog and gushing over him is a big no no, or at least they should. And why? Because that dog is providing just that, a service to his owner. The ADA’s definition of what it means to be a service animal goes on to cover this very point.

“Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability,” the ADA explains.

Next: Emotional support dogs aren’t service dogs.

3. A service dog and an emotional support dog are not the same thing

Young girl with dog in the park

Just because your dog comforts you, that doesn’t make him a service dog. | Mbot/Getty Images

Let’s get one thing straight here. Emotional support dogs are NOT service dogs. Emotional support dogs don’t need any specific training, nor does the owner need to have a disability. More importantly, these types of dogs are not covered under the same ADA rules and regulations that service dogs are.

It’s important that we mention this, because too many people are using their pets as emotional support animals for their own sake, yet these pets may not even be well-trained. According to the ADA, “Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.” This is a major distinction, and often one that people choose to ignore.

Next: Think you’re above the rules? Think again. 

4. People don’t know the rules

Service Dogs

Only true service dogs may enter most public places. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

We’ve already established that service dogs and emotional support dogs are not the same thing, but not everyone knows that the two have very different rules and regulations. When it comes to public places, service dogs have access to just about anywhere, while emotional support dogs do not.

Most people don’t know this, and therefore think that an emotional support dog is allowed inside any business or establishment. That’s not the case. “Unfortunately, the ease with which a pet can be labelled an Emotional Support Animal means that few people really know what rights they do and do not have,” The Huffington Post writes.

Next: Fake service dogs are ruining the system for everyone else. 

5. Fake service dogs put the entire program at risk

Service Dog Sitting with ball

Some people try to pass their pets off as service dogs. | User10095428_393/iStock/Getty Images

Service dogs — not to be confused with emotional support dogs — are allowed access to almost anywhere the general public is. In fact, the ADA says, “Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.”

So, just think about it for a second. Say someone brings their fake service dog into a restaurant, and the dog is wildly out of control. He’s misbehaving, running a muck, and generally an all-out terror. Is this the kind of thing paying customers want to be around? Absolutely not. Therefore, the rights that service animals and their handlers have today may be at risk in the future.

Next: No certification required makes for a slippery slope. 

6. Service animals don’t need to be certified, which makes scamming the system too easy

Service Dog

Unfortunately, it’s easy to scam the system. | David Osberg/iStock/Getty Images

So, why is faking a service dog so doable in the first place? Turns out, there are a number of factors that make it all too easy to obtain service dog status. You may be surprised to learn that service dogs don’t, in fact, require any special documentation.

Furthermore, according to Anything Pawsable, “Under the law, two things mark a dog as a Service Dog:

  1. Being specially trained to perform specific tasks or work that a disabled handler would otherwise have difficulty completing
  2. Partnership with an individual who has a disability

That’s it. No special gear required, which brings us to our next point.

Next: Anyone can buy service dog gear. 

7. Just because you bought the vest doesn’t mean it’s OK

Service Dog in training

It’s easy to get a fake service dog vest online. | Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

Did you know that you can buy a whole slew of service dog gear right off Amazon? It’s true. However, given the fact that a service dog isn’t required to wear a specialized vest or tag, a scammer will only be wasting his money. And that, folks, is what we call karma.

Next: Service dogs have a job to do.

8. Fake service dogs make it harder for real service dogs to do their job

Pit Bull dog

Fake service dogs complicate an already difficult situation. | Adogslifephoto/iStock/Getty Images

Service dogs are typically very well-trained, but still, things happen, and distractions can get in the way of them doing their job. Consider a service dog minding his own business, sticking loyally by his handler’s side, when another ill-behaved dog, in a public setting, no less, comes out of nowhere. Well, that’s a very real concern.

Take a look at one of the personal accounts described in this Outside article, for example, in which a blind man describes how a fellow in-flight passenger’s barking dog affected his own guide dog’s behavior. Randy Pierce told the publication, “I’m 6’4″, so if she loses her focus, it means I’m going to hit my head on an exit sign or a doorway or, if we’re on a street, maybe even step out into traffic.” It’s clear to see why service dogs need to keep their focus, and avoid any unwanted distractions by other animals.

Next: Fake service dogs may not know how to behave properly in public. 

9. Fake service dogs ruin the reputation of actual service dogs

Woman in wheelchair with service dog

Real service dogs deserve respect, not skepticism. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

As mentioned, every real service dog out there has a very specific job to do. So, what happens when someone misrepresents a service animal? Issues arise, that’s what. Whether a fake service dog poses a potential problem for people in the area or for another dog who’s actually trying to do his job, it’s not a good look, and it gives real service dogs a bad rap.

Next: There are certain questions others aren’t allowed to ask a person with a service dog.

10. Fake service dogs open the door for others to question the legitimacy of the dog


Scammers are hurting the people who really need service dogs. | Bryan Thomas/Getty Images

This, of course, is bad news for the people who actually need a service dog. And with so many fakers on the rise, it’s only a matter of time before business owners, gate agents, even strangers on the street think it’s OK to ask why exactly someone needs a service dog in the first place.

Thankfully, at least for now, there are questions people aren’t allowed to ask in regards to a service animal. According to the ADA, “In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.”

Next: Taking advantage of the system is just wrong. 

11. People who take advantage are giving those with real disabilities a bad rap

Service Dog

It’s not fair to those who really need help from service dogs. | Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images

Let’s say a person brings their fake service dog into a hotel because, of course, their dog is special enough to be able to travel with them. However, the owner in question isn’t responsible, leaves the “service dog” they so desperately need at the hotel for a few hours, and the dog makes a mess of the room.

Even though the hotel had to allow that person and his dog into the room, it doesn’t mean the experience won’t leave a terrible taste in the hotel’s mouth. Will this happen again? Will someone else bring their unruly “service dog” into our business? These are all viable questions that naturally come up, and unfortunately, it’s only working against the entire system.

Next: Is having your dog with you 24/7 more important than the safety of others?

12. People who misrepresent service dogs care more about an animal than the safety of others

Scared dog with tail between legs

Pretending your dog is a service dog is incredibly selfish. | Goldfinch4ever/iStock/Getty Images

If there’s one way to let everyone know that you don’t care about the rules and regulations of a system that’s meant to help a specific group of people, it’s this. Having a fake service dog says one thing, and one thing only: I am special, and above the law. But where does having a fake service dog get us? To a community that doesn’t respect one another enough to abide by the rules, that’s where.

Next: Finally, lawmakers are starting to pay attention. 

13. More and more states are cracking down

Worcester, Massachusetts, USA

Lawmakers in Massachusetts and other states are getting involved. | Sean Pavone/iStock/Getty Images

With so much controversy over the issue, it’s about time that banning fake service dogs becomes a bigger conversation. And now, more and more states are beginning to crack down on just that. Virginia, Colorado, and Massachusetts are just a few of the states working on laws related to the problem. In some places, misrepresenting a service dog is considered a crime.

Next: There’s no restriction on service dog breeds. 

14. Any breed can be a service dog

American bulldog

Service dogs aren’t limited by breed. | White_bcgrd/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

Although we may often associate service dogs with labs, retrievers, and shepherds, any breed can be a service dog, so long as they’re able to fulfill their required role. In fact, the ADA doesn’t have a restriction on a type of breed  that must be used as a service dog.

Next: Is there anything a service dog can’t do? 

15. Service dogs fill a variety of roles

Dalmatian Therapy dog

These dogs provide vital services | China Photos/Getty Images

Service dogs perform an impressive range of duties. For all the hard work they do, it’s important to give these pups credit where credit’s due. From serving as guide dogs for the blind and deaf, to alerting people who suffer from seizure disorders that their about to have an episode, service dogs are irreplaceable. We all need to work together to ensure the system stays in place, and these dogs and their owners remain protected under the ADA forever.

Read more: These Are the Most Intelligent Dog Breeds You’ll Ever Own

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