Monday, August 11, 2014

How Do "Fakers" Hurt Real Disabled People and Their Real Service Dogs?

My husband, Chris, posing with Rosie, my Service Dog on her first ever Schooner ride!
 Just yesterday I met a person who told me that they made their dog a service dog because they travel abroad a lot and it was so expensive to bring their family dog.  At the time, my vested service dog and I were enjoying a sail in that person's family's schooner with many other people from the general public.  She commented on how well behaved my service dog was, stating that theirs wasn't that well behaved.  As badly as I wanted to bluntly inform these people of their mistake, and the fact that they were breaking the law, I bit my tongue and smiled and nodded, asking "You mean an Emotional Support Dog?"  
"Oh. My dog is a service dog." And the conversation was interrupted.

They have maintained their Schooner well over the years, as I had been on this particular one way back as a senior in High School, along with the math class and their teacher.  I assisted him in class to give people a little more one-on-one.  The end of the year, we sailed as a treat.  Since then, the Captain had since retired, and this family took over.  

They were friendly with everyone, and their young daughter and my older niece hit it off and provided some live entertainment (unplanned, but they had new songs to perform).  The other high point was that they let me take my service dog onto the boat and did not challenge me in the slightest.  I was there with my whole family celebrating my Mother's birthday.  The weather was perfect.  (Too perfect. There wasn't enough wind!)  So what was my problem??

(Want to sail in a Windjammer?


Quick answer- They can't.

Have you ever seen those sites on the internet that says that you can register or certify your dog to be a service dog?  Usually there is a price to pay.  One says: "Official Service Dog Kits- Take Your Dog Anywhere Without the Hassle!"  It will even email you temporary documents to use while you wait for your "real" ones to arrive.  This family may have seen something like this and paid the money to "make" their family dog a "service dog".  Some of these sites do have educational pages or links.  How many people do you think bothers to read those sections?  How many read them and do it anyway?

It is my assumption that they made their family dog an "Emotional Support" dog, which is not the same as a service dog, but is allowed on airplanes.  They obviously don't know the laws that pertain to each type of job, or if they qualify for either of them, because if they did, they would know that it is not a certificate or registration that makes a service dog a service dog.  Emotional Support dogs only have public access in planes and in "No Pets" housing.  Of course, it can be more convenient to have a service dog because you can take them almost anywhere.  Perhaps they paid the money for the papers and thought "and so it is so."


According to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act, 2010), a Service Animal is:
Q: What is a service animal?
A: The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.
Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. Guide dogs are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is the type of service animal with which most people are familiar. But there are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Some examples include:
_ Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds.
_ Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments.
_ Assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance.

First of all, in order for a person to even qualify for a service dog, one has to be disabled as defined in the ADA.  The disability must affect  one or more major life activities.  What complicates this is that each person is different.  Two people can suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and one may be able to work, maintain a home, take care of him/herself.  Another person with PTSD may have big problems.  The person may not be able to function well enough to work, or may not work enough, they may have problems with things as simple as staying safe.  This means that a diagnosis doesn't mean a person qualifies for a service dog.  

See: If I'm not really disabled, Couldn't I qualify for a Service Dog under the "Third Prong"?

Secondly, the dog its self must be trained, not just in general obedience, but must be trained to perform work or tasks that will assist the disabled person he/she will work for.  Even a legit service dog can get kicked out of a public place if it does not behave appropriately. A service dog, though the handler can get very attached and fall deeply in love with the dog, is considered adaptive medical equipment, and is not considered a pet. At the end of the day, it is that dog's training that makes him/her a service dog and not some old piece of paper or a vest or harness.  In public, if that service dog is not with his/her handler, but with another person, that dog is no longer considered a service dog and has no public access.


One of the problems with a family "making" their pet dog a "service dog" or "emotional support dog" is that typically, only so many dogs are allowed in the cabin of the plane at a time.  This means that family A, who has a pet they simply don't want to pay the extra money to travel with could be preventing a truly disabled individual from traveling with his legit service dog.  Who will that be?  Will the Veteran with the service dog for his PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or a person with seizures?  Will it be a guide dog and his visually impaired handler?   Maybe it is a person with a legitimate emotional support dog.  See the problem?  
Another issue that comes up with plane travel is that Emotional Support Pets must be accompanied by a letter from a Doctor.  An expensive piece of paper from the internet is not going to cut it here.

Lastly, the airports and planes are not following the same set of laws.  They do not follow the ADA.  They have their own set of rules, and have been known to kick out legitimate service dogs and their disabled handlers.

It may not surprise you to learn that around the time of dog shows, air travel with service dogs and emotional support dogs increases.  Show handlers don't want their dogs in the cabin, and, as we know, it is expensive to fly with a dog in the cabin.  This too is not legal.

See:  Air Travel with an Assistance Dog:

Me with Rosie & Elaine with Jenn at the Portland Int'l Airport heading for Washington DC.

Fakers have been on the rise with service dogs.  It creates a lot of problems for those who are disabled and really need their trained service dog.  Faker service dogs put service dogs at risk when they are not trained well, or just plain aggressive.  A yapping fake SD is a big distraction, and really annoying for everyone else in the business.  Faker SDs can make it more difficult for a legit, well-trained service dog team to enter a business later.  They misbehave and the business owner assumes that all service dogs will act like this. People with fake SDs often show "papers" when a service dog team doesn't need to even carry such papers. This can make business owners think that every service dog team will have "papers" or ID.  There are certain behaviors expected of real service dogs, and those who just slap a vest on their pet and wave around some $40 papers is not going to be aware of those behaviors.  What is accepted from a pet dog in a public place may not be what is accepted from a trained service dog.  At some point, probably really soon, there will be laws to make it more difficult for people to fake their pet dogs as service dogs.  There will be standardized tests.  There will be ID cards available from a single licensed source, like the state or city.  People who are disabled and have real service dogs often wish they did not have to take their service dog everywhere all the time, but they NEED to.  Sometimes a disabled person wants to be invisible, and that is impossible when the person has a service dog.  It sounds like a lot of fun, to take your dog everywhere with you, but it gets old. Many of us who are disabled, though we love our service dogs dearly, wish that we didn't need the dog all the time.  It would be great to not have a disability too.

Waiting for the bus in front of Walmart in Bangor


I have a psychiatric disability that substantially affects my ability to perform some pretty basic major life activities.  After spending a lot of time in and out of hospitals, trying various medications, and a variety of different therapies, and nearly dying on a few occasions, it seemed that nothing would help me.  My whole adult life was like this.  One year I went to a Mental Health Consumer conference in St. Paul, Minnesota called Alternatives.  A woman had her dog on the plane with her.  She said it was a service dog I believe, but I believe that the dog actually fit the description of an Emotional Support Dog.  He was a handsome black Lab named Spencer, and he was well behaved.  I picked up some information about dogs like Spencer and took it home with me (with a pile of new books and a million other sheets and brochures).  Over the next several years, I would read about Emotional Support Dogs and Service Dogs, the laws that pertain to them and the people that qualify to use them, and how they helped their people.  I spoke with other people I saw with these types of dogs and learned more.  Finally, in 2004, my Psychiatrist and I were talking about how I was doing and what to try next and he mentioned a service dog.  He had another client with a service dog who saw him and she had some similar issues.  Seems as though this dog was a big help to her in dealing with her disability.  I thought, "Yes.  This is the time to try this.  I have nothing to lose and everything to gain from trying this out."  And so I began looking for ads for puppies to train in the local paper.  I was totally into getting a border collie, so when I found an ad for a litter of border collie pups for sale fairly nearby, I got excited.  I had been looking into the breed for years, talking to anyone who had one to see what they were like.  I had to ask my Landlord at the time, and needed to give him a copy of my Doctor's prescription for the service dog.  My husband and I went to visit the pups, and the little female seemed to be selling herself quite eagerly.  She was sweet, had attitude, and seemed very confident.  Later, my Mother and I visited the pup.  The female pup again sold herself successfully, and a deposit was made. The end of the week, we returned to pick up the puppy and begin raising and training my new service dog candidate.  Rowena became my best partner that day.

8-week old Rowena at the breeder's house.  My husband is holding her.
From 9 weeks old, I worked hard to train Rowena to be the kind of dog that would be a good service dog. I began taking her everywhere from day one.  I carried her on the bus, to appointments, on walks, we did obedience classes, I trained with her all the time.  She was quick and eager to learn.  Early on, I began teaching her how to behave properly in public places.  We practiced our basics everywhere.

When Rosie was about a year old, we found a person who lived a half hour away who raised and trained service dogs.  Their specialty was training service dogs for children with Autism, but they did others too.  They had begun a Handler-Trained Service Dog class.  Through this, we took a class to get Rowena's CGC (Canine Good Citizen test).  See the top of the page for more information on AKC's CGC program. We worked hard, and Rosie was ready for the test before I was.  However, we continued to go to classes and we took the CGC test in May of 2006, and passed it!  After the CGC, we attended a Therapy Dog training class.  We often discussed service dog laws, and people were always being told that Therapy dogs were NOT the same as service dogs. When the class was over, many dogs in the class went on to become Therapy Dogs.  However, since Rosie was a service dog, the organization who sponsored the class (TDI) would not let us test and become a therapy dog team.  However, in October 2007, we went to the Bangor Mall to watch some service dog teams take (and pass) their public access test.  We ended up taking the test ourselves that day, and we passed!  It was really impromptu and I didn't have time to really drill Rosie on the items on the test, but we did it!  (See at the top of the page for a description of the public access test and the items tested.)  Even though I never expected it, we did receive a certificate of completion that stated that we met the requirements and are now a task trained service dog team.

Our Service Dog Team Certificate
Me with Rosie and our Instructor at the Bangor Mall on test day.

Through the years with Rosie, even in her puppy days, I had been active on online Service Dog Advocacy and Support listservs, and had become exceedingly  more knowledgeable in service dog law, and what was expected from me as a service dog handler, and what was expected of Rowena, the service dog.  I became very familiar with the ADA and how it defines "disability" and "service dog" and what a "major life activity" is. I got on a study group at the state capitol, Augusta, Maine, to help the state redefine "Service Dog".  It was nerve wracking, and working with Pine Tree State Guide Dog Users was not a positive experience.  One guide dog was aggressive acting, barking and lunging at the other people and service dogs as they entered the State House.  No One, not a single law making, bill creating, political soul said anything to that woman  about her dog's behavior, and she barely had a grasp on that German Shepherd Dog.  Things did not turn out the way they were supposed to.  At the very end, right before our last vote, the Pine Tree State Guide Dog Users decided that they didn't agree on something in the way the new definition was written, even though they had been a part of the creation of the definition all along.  As a result, last minute changes were made, and the result was probably not what they'd been hoping for either.  I don't know.  Anyway, the wording was changed, and the definition updated later after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was revised and updated, so that problem has since been resolved.

The instructor, a 17- month old service dog in training, and me with Rosie at the State Capitol, Augusta

With a service dog, the training never stops. It is an ongoing process.  If a service dog handler lacks the skills to train the service dog, or lack the knowledge of knowing what others expect from a service dog in a public place (and its handler), they may not be able to catch problems as they arise, or may not know how to maintain the training the dog has (or even build on them as need presents).  I am constantly learning newer, better ways of training a dog, or raising a service dog puppy that I will certainly utilize with my next candidate. Rosie was my first ever dog, let alone my first service dog.  She has taught me a lot over the years as well.

Rosie and Me posing in front of the Augusta State House
Basically, it comes down to this... I worked my tail off making sure my pup learned the skills she would need to become a successful service dog.  I spent money (I don't really have) on many classes.  I spent many hours with her, both in class and out of class to shape her to be a successful service dog.  We have been together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for almost ten years now.  There have been maybe a few hours we have not been together through out the years.  With my disability, the journey has not been easy either. When someone just "makes" their pet dog a "service dog" so that traveling is not as expensive, it is going to anger me.  When someone purchases a vest with a patch on it online so they can bring their ill-behaved pet dog into Walmart with them, it is going to irritate me, not to mention, it is these types of dogs that have lunged, growled and gone after Rosie (and other service dogs) while she was vested, concentrating on her work and minding her own business.  A dog attack can RUIN a service dog.  Maybe the physical harm isn't bad, but the emotional toll it takes on some dogs (especially soft breeds like border collies) can make a great service dog unsuitable for working in the public.  Because that person needed to take their pet into Walmart, or wherever, a disabled person loses their independence because a dog went after, or attacked that disabled person's working service dog.  A barking dog can make my dog nervous enough that she can become distracted from her work.  She is afraid the dog will attack.
Rosie and Me in an obedience class.  She was about 6 months old
Your pet dog runs up to my service dog and you yell "He's friendly!" after you  have unsuccessfully tried to recall your pet.  My service dog doesn't know your dog is friendly.  She's been attacked a few times so you are going to have to do better than that to convince her your dog who is charging after her, hanging over her, right in her space that your dog is friendly.

I worked damn  hard to get my dog where she is today. Anyone needing the services of a service dog, and wanting to train their own should also work hard.  If after all that work I am unable to load a plane heading for a conference or even a vacation location because someone who is not disabled has "made" their pet dog a "service dog" or "emotional support" dog and is taking that dog on the plane, I am going to be angry, because the fact of the matter is, I need my dog with me in order to be independent, stay safe, and stay out of the hospital.  I cannot travel without her.  You, the pet owner, can.

Think of it this way:  Rosie has saved taxpayers thousands of MaineCare and Medicare dollars a year for each year she has been my service dog.  No other method of treatment had ever accomplished that.
Rosie and Me in an advanced obedience class

No comments: