It’s kind of like parking in a handicapped space and not being handicapped. Fake service pets are a thing, and shopping online for vests, harnesses and tags to fake their legitimacy is making it harder for those genuinely in need of assistance of a service dog to be taken seriously. The untrained pets can also create issues for the disabled persons who rely on them as dogs that aren’t properly schooled don’t act right when around other canines by barking, growling and doing other non-working dog behaviors.
Today, there are several types of therapeutic uses for pets: emotional support animals, psychiatric service dogs and therapy animals. But only service dogs are allowed in public places like restaurants and shops.
Most using the gear to pass off Fido as a working dog do so because they don’t want to be separated from their furry friends while traveling. When boarding airplanes, for example, some try to avoid putting their beloved furry friend in a crate down below during flights.
But as the BBC reported, California-based Canine Companions for Independence, an organization that trains specialized dogs for people with disabilities has begun a petition to urge the Department of Justice to begin a crackdown on this puppy ploy. The online petition has already received more than 30,000 signatures as the group attempts to bring more awareness to the issue of the wide availability and sale of fake service dog products.
Those who rely on service pets say some store owners have become more suspicious as the fakes become more prevalent. Pets, especially dogs, are now frequently used in various therapies to help patients. Properly schooled pooches now assist the blind, deaf, seizure-prone and those with many mental health issues.
Genuine service-dog owners exercise their rights to assistance under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Official harnesses, tags and service-dog vests and other items are widely available and cheap to buy online.
There are defined training, enforcement and certification requirements for service animals. But should rules be changed as pets are now used for many causes, from helping veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to that aforementioned wide range of different therapies?
Here are some definitions of various types of pets used therapeutically to help make sure owners don’t pass their pooch off as a working dog, just in case you were planning on taking a trip and thinking of breaking the rules.
From the Service Dogs of Florida, INC, a resource for service dog training and assistance:
“A therapy dog is an individual’s pet which has been trained, tested, certified and insured to work in hospital, nursing home, school, and other institutional settings. The therapy dog and their handler visit to cheer patients, to educate the community, to counter grief and stress, and generally be good canine ambassadors within the community,” while a psychiatric service dog “is a dog that helps its handler, who has a mental (psychiatric) disability.”
Emotional Service Animals are therapeutic pets, usually prescribed by a therapist or psychiatrist or doctor, to help the disabled with emotional difficulties or with loneliness. They may include cats and birds.
Though there are several different types of service animals, only certified service dogs are allowed to travel directly with their companions. No matter how strong your connection or how much you love that schnauzer or terrier, unfortunately, unless the owner is disabled, they won’t be allowed to travel unless properly crated and secured. So don’t break the dog law if you love that furry friend. Nobody wants to see their best bud in paw-cuffs after all.
Noah Zuss is a reporter for TheBlot Magazine.