When is a service dog not a service dog?

The simplest answer: when it doesn't act like one

We have all seen the service dogs waking in a grocery store or a mall, maybe even a restaurant. You look and they look back and then the cute little dog walks up and nuzzles you.

GOTCHA... It's a fraud! That's not a service dog, that's a service dog wannabe.

Real service dogs are highly trained to perform a specific function. They aren't reactionary animals and won't be distracted from their task by strangers. Many don't make the grade because it is such an intense job. The standards are rigorous and very demanding.

The problem is that today you can go online and purchase credentials to register your dog as a service dog or therapy dog. The only thing a person has to do to get these products is pay a fee. Their dog is never tested and their disability is never verified. All the credential really means is that the person was willing to pay money to get it.

The purchaser simply fills out a form with the information for the certificate and where to mail it, and includes payment ranging from $35 to over $200 depending on the package being purchased. Most get a credential identifying their animal as an Emotional Support Dog.

The problem with this is that it really hurts the people who have disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits requiring identification documents for a service animal and does not allow any questioning about specifics of a person’s disability.

In 2011, The Department of Justice ruled that since Emotional Support Dogs are not formally trained to perform a function (open the refrigerator, turn off a light, etc) they are not service dogs and no longer have to be admitted into establishments where dogs are normally prohibited.

While the ADA prohibits asking people about their disability, it does not prohibit asking about a dog's certification. Emotional support dogs are not covered under the ADA so anyone has the right to question the owner. If in doubt, ask what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. If it is to provide "emotional support" versus aiding someone with a disablility then they are not entitled to accommodation.

Spotting a fraud

If a supposed service dog is interrupting a business’ daily operation with its behavior, it’s a danger to anyone or its conduct is not conduct acceptable in a service dog (barking, growling, stealing food, knocking people over, jumping), by law, the manager or business owner has every right to ask the person to remove the dog from the premises, “service dog” or not.

Real service dogs are well-trained, well-mannered, calm, unobtrusive and handler-focused.

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