It’s been ALL the rage in the airline business for several years. Dress up your pet in a service dog vest, then it gets to ride for free! OR, put a vest on your beloved fifi, so you can enjoy a quiet dinner together in your favorite restaurant. What’s the harm, right? Your little dog is as special as a service dog and should be afforded the same priviledges. Plus, you ARE pretty anxious, sometimes. I’m sure there are plenty of folks who are able to convince themselves that they somehow fit the ADA criteria, but you don’t, it’s more involved than that. Everyone who sees your dog in public knows it’s not as well. Its behavior, even if it is a well-trained pet, is simply not equivalent to that of a service team. But, you should know that fake service dogs are a huge issue for those who use a service dog to mitigate those challenges that life has given us.
Recently, my medical alert dog and I were returning to the office after our lunch. Like we do everyday, we walked through the lobby of the government office where we work, heading to the back. We have probably walked past thousands of people in our time there, all sizes, colors, scents and volumes. We never had an issue. Not with screaming, angry people, not with sudden movements, not with charging toddlers and not with the strong aroma that some folks have to them. But today, someone who felt it would be a good idea to dress her pet up as a service dog, almost changed our lives forever. As we walked past the seating area, turning a corner towards the door, a small, fluffy dachshund mix flew out of nowhere, attacking my pit bull viciously! Apparently, this “faux service dog” was seated in a tiny “console” car seat (taking up an extra seat meant for people), beside her rotund, middle-aged owner. This woman had absolutely NO control over this aggressive, vicious beast. She finally fumbled around to grab the leash and pull the demon dog off, as I was grabbing for it. The rest of the lobby watched in horror, fully expecting MY DOG (who is a pit bull) to attack and kill the fluffy demon. But she didn’t. She did what she was trained to do – watched me and waited for an instruction, because she’s worked for years repeating those behaviors. She’s spent years being exposed to every situation I could think of. Because we have been a team for YEARS….she knew what was expected. She is my freedom and I trust her judgement implicitly.
Because I work there, I couldn’t share with her what I was feeling, or how selfish and rude I find that entitlement to be. Lucky you. I’m confident that you wouldn’t care, anyway. And your little Fu-Fu dog is equally as fortunate that my pit bull WASN’T a fake, or FuFu would be dead right now. And MY DOG would be the one in the headlines, “Vicious Pit Bull Eats Service Dog In Government Building”. You should understand how making the foolish decision to misrepresent an uncontrollable pet, by putting a tiny ‘service dog” vest on it, in order to illegally gain access to a public building, had the propensity to have changed all of our lives today.
People with (real) service animals ALREADY have obstacles in their lives. When your totally out-of-control devil dog “goes pit bull” in public, people are pretty sure it’s not trained. When business owners start to doubt the legitimacy of service teams, it increases “access challenges”. Instead of zipping in and zipping out, when I go somewhere with my dog, I am barraged with a million questions, stares, dirty looks, having people take pictures of us, follow me around, or ask me to “do a trick”. I don’t need to play “twenty questions” when I’m in a hurry to grab a coffee before work, because you and FuFu just left and his outrageous behavior has everyone on edge.
When I am out with my dog, she is working. Your dog’s ridiculous behavior, vocalizations, lunging, barking and full-on attack distracts her from doing her job. So, not only have you put her in jeopardy with your vicious ankle-biter, you put ME in jeopardy too, because my dog is not able to focus on doing her job. People who don’t depend on a service dog don’t realize this. Their dogs are not constantly focused on them. They are pets, ornaments and companions. If they miss a critical queue, who cares? If they are so distracting in public that real service animals miss a queue……oh, well.
Many people are genuinely afraid of dogs. For whatever reason, seeing a dog is terrifying to them. That’s why it’s so important for teams who are entitled to public access, to have exemplary behavior. Watching your beast attacking my dog, further traumatized several people who were there. You have validated their fears. Your dog shouldn’t be in public at all. He is a dangerous dog, but has gotten away with it because of his size. I’m sure that you know he is dog-aggressive, but simply didn’t consider a chance meeting with another dog in a public building. I bet you have pulled that off more than once. Service animals are not dog-aggressive. Keep him home where he feels safe. Sadly, there is a roomful of people who will be talking about “the service dog fight”.
Fake service dog handlers deal with unexpected issues that arise, exactly the way you did. Instead of immediately removing the dog from the situation, (like I did, instead of telling you off), fake service dog handlers will stay – with an out of control dog! It wasn’t until you got an “access challenge” of your own, that you thought to leave. Your poor, stressed-out, mean, little dog continued to be subjected to an environment that he was ill-equipped to deal with in the first place.
Trained service dog teams observe a certain etiquette, to ensure that they are as inconspicuous as possible. You didn’t. While I acknowledge that we all have bad days, including dogs, actual service teams will ordinarily not: allow dogs to sit in chairs, booths, etc meant for humans, block walkways, bark, jump (with the exception of auditory dogs), bite, sniff (except allergen detection dogs) or otherwise invade the space of others, solicit attention, and totally disregard their handlers.
A service dog, as opposed to a pet, is there to do a job. They require a stable temperament and sustained attention, in order to mitigate their handlers’ disabilities. Just because you have a disability, or could think one up, that doesn’t make your pet a service animal. More importantly, it shouldn’t impinge on MY ability to live, work, shop, etc, in public. We should be able to go wherever we please, without worrying if a seven pound Kujo is going to spring from nowhere to attack us. We work constantly on training. It’s not fair that my stable dog may now be hyper-vigilant, in her own workplace, because you want to “play service dog”.
Let’s face it….If my pit bull had defended herself against YOUR fluffy attacking dog: 1) Your dog would be dead or seriously injured, 2) I would have criminal charges, (at least), 3) we would have made the news, because “Pit Bull Attacks Cute Service Dog” would be on every channel, in every paper, and all we would hear, and 4) I would be unemployed. She would be at fault because of her breed. We would hear those buzzwords – pit bull, attack and service dog – over and over. It wouldn’t matter that she was a service dog doing her job and your dog was the aggressor.
I acknowledge that many will be offended, incensed, or indignant about my stance on this highly emotionally-charged subject. I am ready for everyone to jump in and comment about this lady’s “hidden disability”, her right to equal access, how the dog may be mitigating a disability by attacking my dog, or how it’s just fine to have a dog who’s “not perfect” or “home trained”…..have at it.
But I don’t see this as a disability issue…..I see it as an entitlement issue. This woman felt entitled to bring her anxious little dog, for whatever reason, despite knowing it was aggressive and untrained. Without bothering to undergo the intense training required, she chose to put a little vest on him and scream “service dog!” if challenged. She can do that with impunity, since negative views on the disabled is also something she gets to choose. Again, lucky her.
She never asked any of our staff if my dog was alright. In fact, I heard she became angered by the comments of others over how well-behaved my dog was and how lucky she was. It wasn’t until another agency’s staff member (who is very fond of my dog), asked her what task the dog performed, did she get up and storm out in a huff. She never answered him.