“Register your Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal for Free & travel with your pet” is the ad campaign’s catchy headline that grabbed my attention when checking my Facebook account recently.
Curious, I looked up the website to see what it was all about. As advertised, people could simply register their dog with the organization and be listed on their Service Dog Registry. People could also pay to receive kits that included items such as: Laminated ID cards, Official Certificates, and dog vests. Depending upon what items were included in the kit, the prices ranged from $49-$119.
As I toured the site looking for information that described the qualifications for a Service Dog, I found nothing. One could just register their dog and claim it was a service dog. There was a drop-down menu of disablity choices to choose from, but nothing else required in the way of proof that your dog was indeed a trained Service Animal. There were directions for people recommending that they have identification on their dog, or a vest to indicate that it was a working dog which would limit questioning by businesses. There was also legal information advising people of their rights: saying that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) businesses can ask if a dog is a service dog, and what duties does the dog perform. They can not ask a person what their disability is, which I agree with. I’m concerned that people could easily abuse these registries by claiming their dog is a Service Dog, when really they just want their pet dog to accompany them everywhere.
True Service Animals that perform specific tasks for their person are highly trained (check this out to know more about it), whether it’s a Guide Animal for the Blind, Impaired Hearing Service Dog, Physical Mobility Support Dog, Seizure Alert Dog, etc.. In many cases it takes months, if not years, to get the animals to the level of training that would qualify them as a Working Service Animal. Under the ADA, these animals are considered working animals, not pets. Also, the ADA does not recognize Emotional Support Animals in the same category as Service Animals. In the case of Emotional Support Animals, businesses do have the right to ask for signed documentation from a Medical Doctor or Mental Health Provider that a dog is providing emotional support.
However, the advertisements really give the illusion to people that they can simply register their dog, and then have their dog with them everywhere; flying next them on the plane, staying in hotels, restaurants… One slogan reads “Register your Service Dog in just 2 minutes & Travel anywhere with your pet.”
I find this to be a huge disservice, as it has the great potential to harm those out there that do have trained, qualified, working Service Animals. People who truly do have disabilities, where dogs are assisting them and providing them with a better quality of life, don’t need to have the risk of that right being taken away because of someone’s untrained dog.
What happens when a pet dog is falsely represented as a Service Dog and is taken into a business establishment where dogs are not normally allowed, and then that dog reacts aggressively towards someone, or towards an actual working Service Animal? Will true Service Animals end up suffering because of other people’s negligence and selfishness?
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to take my dogs with me everywhere, but I know they are not welcome at all businesses and establishments, and for good reason. Not everyone loves my dogs like I do. I also understand that my dogs wouldn’t always be on their best behavior in all situations, and I wouldn’t want to risk my dogs getting harmed, or anyone else getting uncomfortable or even injured because I wanted to have my dog keep me company, or felt sorry for leaving my dog at home.
Even if we could take our dogs everywhere with us, would we want to? I ask this because I bet, in many cases, the dog would not be comfortable outside the confines of their home and routine stomping grounds, and would end up becoming more of a distraction for the owner than an aid. Many pet dog owners do not understand common dog body language, and end up missing subtle signs when their dog is feeling uncomfortable or anxious. It’s not until the dog is lunging, growling, or biting that they realize there is a problem, and by then it’s to late.
Until establishments openly accept companion animals to accompany us into their places of business, we better be sure the Service Animals we’re bringing inside with us are providing an actual service, are trained for the task, and are well-mannered in all situations.