Opinion: Letter to the Editor: A Pretend Service Dog

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: A Pretend Service Dog

“I wish I could have my dog with me all the time” or “You’re so lucky to have your dog with you wherever you go.”

Have you thought this when you see a Service Dog team? Have you even said it to the person? I hear it all the time.

Here are some things to know next time you have this thought.

I’ve been reading many of the responses to the Department Of Transportation’s request for comments on amending its Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulation on transportation of service animals. I’m very shocked at the number of comments containing misinformation, including comments from professionals such as doctors and veterinarians.

However this makes me better understand why the general public is so confused about the laws. I’d like to attempt to clear up some of the misinformation being expressed.

  • Service Dogs are not pets, they are fully trained to do specific tasks to assist one person who has a disability; they have been exposed to numerous situations a pet would not be exposed to and have learned to be non-reactive in these situations. In addition they have hours of working in the public in all types of situations including things such as leaving food alone when laying quietly on the floor in a restaurant; to walk in a grocery store or shopping center focusing only on their partner, ignoring other people, dogs, smells; or to ride public transportation if they need to with their partner. They are exposed to everyday real life situations many, many, many time becoming comfortable in them, quiet in public, and able to adapt to going anywhere with their partner. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to make a successful Service Dog team.

  • There is no such thing as a certified or registered Service Dog. Some programs who train and place Service Dogs will give them public access testing which they must pass. This does not mean a Service Dog is certified or registered.

  • Online scam sites sell papers, vests, IDs and other bling showing your pet is “certified” or “registered.” This means nothing except you spent money to make your pet a pretend Service Dog or you don’t know the difference.

  • Emotional Support Animals (ESA) are pets, they are not specially trained to do anything, they make you feel better. They have no public access rights to any non-dog friendly establishment. Taking them in public with a vest is in the opinion of many individuals who have trained Service Dogs harmful in a lot of ways. Some ways are they are not trained to ignore other dogs and many Service Dogs have been attacked by these pets. As well it gives businesses a chance now to question any trained Service Dog due to seeing behavioral problems with these pets. They have not been exposed to many of the stimuli in the public we run into (loud noises, smells, crowds) and become reactive in situations a Service Dog would not react in. In many states it’s now illegal to take a pet in public pretending its a Service Dog. That’s what a person is doing by putting a vest on a pet no matter what it says or by showing a business a bogus ID or papers showing your pet is registered or certified.

  • To truly qualify for an ESA you 1) have a diagnosed mental condition as listed in the DSM-V; 2) have documentation on the letterhead of your treating mental health professional less than one year old stating you are under his/her care, have such diagnosis, are in need of an ESA for your mental health or treatment, signed, dated, license number, state, and what type mental health provider the person is. Think about it, do you really have a mental illness? Are you truly under the care of a professional treating you for it? Or is it you feel “normal” everyday stress coming home from work. (That’s not a DSM-V diagnosis.) If you don’t have an illness why do you think it’s ok to pretend?

  • Therapy Dogs are different than either Service Dogs or ESAs. They are tested for temperament and visit groups of people where they can offer hugs, love, be pet. Places include nursing homes, hospitals, rehab facilities, schools, and libraries. They must be invited and have no public access to any other place.

So you just like to be able have your pet with you all the time, I’m pretty certain most people who have a Service Dog would be glad to give you the disability they live with 24/7 that goes along with having a Service Dog that allows them some independence.

I’ll personally trade places with you and I’d leave my dog that I love home where he belongs when I go out.

My hope is I can change the way even one person acts by reading this.

Will you be that one person?

Toni Popkin