Another week has come and gone. As I sit down to write this week's soapbox I have a 9 week old puppy snoring and snoozing in my lap. He's pretty much just what the doctor ordered after a week that week by too fast, but too slow at the same time and was more than pretty stressful. This is Marco.
Along with being the cutest thing you've ever seen times about ten, he is also a Guide Dog puppy. My 3rd here in the UK and my 7th overall. I love being a puppy raiser/walker. It gives me a sense of fulfillment, it's brought me out of me shell, and I get a constant stream of cute puppies. Sure, it does make me cry...but I do love it. It isn't an easy job and it is sometimes made harder by the public.
Which brings me to today's soapbox.
*grabs the soapbox* I'm not going to get on it because that might wake Marco, but I will rest my feet on it like a foot rest. Same thing right?
The Problem with Fake Service Dogs
Before I begin I just want to say that under ADA regulations service dogs are not legally required to wear any sort of identification when out. That means that they don't have to wear a jacket, harness, leash sign, bandana, or anything saying that they are a service dog. And their handlers are not legally required to carry identification. So, it is hard to tell which are the fake and which are the real and you shouldn't just presume. But, sometimes it's terribly easy to tell who has just slapped a vest they bought over the internet on their pet dog.
You see, it's so easy to buy a vest and fake identification over the internet. All you have to do is type in "Service Dog Vest for sale" in google and you'll find plenty of websites selling them for fairly cheap. Go ahead. Try it. I'll wait.
You see what I mean? It's...terrible really. Fully trained service dogs go through years of training so that they will behave appropriately in public. Being a service dog is a tough job and not every dog is up to the stresses and demands of the job. That's why organizations don't just pass every dog that comes through them. And that's why people have no place parading their pets around as one. Not only is it bad for handlers who use actual service dogs, but it's bad for their pets.
I get it more often than I want to admit. "Hey that's cool! Where can I get a jacket for my pet? I'd like to take him/her everywhere too!" It takes every fiber of my being and every ounce of willpower to speak calmly and not smack them upside the head. As a representative of GDB I can't, but I really, really want to. Even in this post, I'm going to stick to mostly polite terms and stay away from some things I really want to say. I know I said I wouldn't do that during Soapbox Saturdays, but I am a representative of GDB here so I should try and be a little polite.
You see, passing of your pet as a service animal makes my job as a puppy raiser hard, makes the formal trainers' job hard, and makes it hard for handlers who use actual service dogs to lead independent lives get the access they so deserve. Most of the time I am asked to leave somewhere with my puppy it's because, "we had a service dog in here once and it was awfully behaved so we don't allow them anymore." Service dogs are required under ADA regulations to act with a certain decorum in public and a lot of the time, when someone uses one of these internet service dog vests (which they don't need anyway), the dog isn't able to meet those behavioral standards. And they include things like not pestering other patrons, sitting clam and still with their handler, being quiet, not being aggressive, etc. But you get one aggressive pet dog passed off as a service dog and that ruins it for a bunch of people who actually use service dogs.
Or imagine this. You've slapped a cheap service dog jacket you bought over the internet on your chihuahua who has never really been that good around other dogs, let's call her Muffin, and decide to take her into a store. So you're sitting there with Muffin and, because she hasn't been trained since she was 9 weeks old she's a little rambunctious. Maybe barking a little. And in walks in a real service dog and you think, "Ah, doesn't matter. I don't feel guilty because I've got my jacket and Muffin isn't being all that bad." when all of sudden little Muffin bites the real service dog. Now a couple of things could happen. You could have just costs the school or handler hundreds of dollars in medical bills and the dog could shrug off the attack. Or you could cause medical costs and the dog has to retire because the attack traumatizes the dog so much that he/she has to retire which leaves their handler without a service dog.
So, because YOU were SELFISH you have caused access rights problems for people who use service dogs to lead independent lives. Because YOU were SELFISH you caused an actual service dog to retire.
But what about your dog. Real service dogs are usually trained from a very young age to go onto become service dogs. Marco is 9 weeks old and arrived in Aberdeen two weeks ago. Then he won't qualify until he's about 2 years old. That's years of socialization and training which means that he will be used to all kinds of sights and sounds and will know that he's suppose to lie down and go to sleep under the table in the restaurant. And if he's scared of anything, we won't make him be a Guide Dog. But most pet owners don't realize that things like coffee makers, cars, noises, book carts....ANYTHING can be scary to a dog who isn't used to it. Which means, for all you know, you are forcing your dog who is scared out of their mind into a stressful situation because YOU don't want to leave them at home. How fair is that to the dog? NOT AT ALL!
I definitely think that education is a big part of the problem. People don't know how much work goes into being a service dog so they think that any dog can do it. And they can't. That isn't me saying that dogs who are bred from organizations like Guide Dogs for the Blind or Canine Companions for Independence are superior. No, I'm all for self training your own service dog provided that the dog is comfortable with being in public and that the dog has to prove that they can maintain that decorum in public. But, back to education. A lot of store owners think that just because they are a service dog means that they can't kick them out. Untrue. They can't kick them out if the dog is behaving itself, but if the dog is overly pestering other patrons or being aggressive or defecating inside the manager is within full rights to ask the handler to remove their dog from the premises.
And if that's not enough for you people, it is also a FEDERAL OFFENCE to pass off your pet as a service animal.
My honest opinion is this. If it were just people who had outstanding dogs (like my Career Changed "Hilly" would be excellent in stores and restaurants because she was dropped for severe dog distractions...which isn't good when you're entrusted with someone's life) who were passing off their dogs as service animals then I don't think I would care because it wouldn't matter. If every pet out there who was being passed off as a service dog behaved like a service dog should then really, who cares? The problem is that people are stupid and selfish and don't realize that Muffin's growling isn't a friendly hello. So yeah, they've pretty much ruined it for anyone. I don't pass Hilly off as a service animal? Why don't I even though she's got the temperament and the training for one? Because she isn't one!
To sum up, don't pass your pet off as a service animal. Just don't do it. You are making the lives of people who train and use real service animals harder because of your own SELFISHNESS. And if that's not enough for you, it's also very ILLEGAL.
Anywho, CCI is holding a campaign to try and get government involvement in shutting down online stores which sell service dog equipment with proof that the dog is fit for public. I've posted the link below. If you could all please head on over and add your name that would be great.
Oh, and one thing more before I get down off my soapbox. GDB posted this to their facebook page and people got all high and mighty thinking that CCI an GDB were saying that only dogs who came from service dog organizations were fit to be service dogs and that there were trying to make it so that people couldn't self train their own dogs anymore and who did they think they were trying to call other service dogs fake and that it was arrogant and stupid of them to say that they were the only ones who had the power to call a service dog fake.
Ok people, first of all nowhere in the video does it say anything about how only dogs who were bred from organization are fit to be service dogs. No one is saying that and no one at GDB or CCI or any of the other service dog organizations out there want to stop people from self training their own service animal. This campaign is only to help stop the selling of fraudulent service animal equipment to anyone who has $100. Will that make it harder to self train? Damn straight. And it should be hard to get a service dog. People at GDB don't just let anyone waltz in and get a Guide Dog. You need to prove that you're a good handler and then they'll find you a dog which has proven him or herself to be fit for public. You shouldn't be able to just pay some guy $100 and instantly have a service dog. It's a big decision and you need to work for it, the dog needs to work for it, and you need to think seriously about if it's the right lifestyle choice for you. being able to get one so easy makes people forget all of those things. There are plenty of places out there where you can self train your dog by going through the right steps, not just handing over a couple of bucks. I guess that actually clears up all the other points too. No one is claiming to want to "police" the public and say which service animal is fake and which one isn't. We simply want to make it harder for people to pass off their pets as service animals.
Oh and, there was this one person who said that her daughter had some emotional issues and she had a therapy dog and there shouldn't be a need for training because no one trained that dog to be a therapy dog, it just was. And no one brought this up because we were focused on other things and we didn't really want to offend her bu I feel this should be mentioned...those kind of dogs (i.e. emotional support dogs) are not yet covered under ADA regulations (though there are efforts to make such dogs in some circumstances covered). Service dogs are defined as a dog who has been trained to perform a certain service for their handler. Such as guide me, pick up things low to the ground, open doors, etc. Now, I think that maybe the person might not have been explaining it right because some emotional support dogs are covered. Dogs which are paired with veterans with PTSD for example. But they have been trained to help their handler in the case of a PTSD episode. The way this person explained it was just that having the dog there provided comfort and hadn't been trained to do anything but be there, and that unfortunately is not covered in ADA regulations. Like, I've heard of some dogs who are trained to help in extreme panic attacks by making sure the person gets out of the area, sits down, and cuddles them so their heart rate goes down. But they were trained to do that. If it were the case that just having the dog there made you feel better and safer, then I'd bring Hilly everywhere with me because she is my rock. Seriously, I probably wouldn't have some of the panic attacks flying like I currently do if Hilly were with me. But "therapy dogs" are not service dogs and are not covered under ADA regulations.
*gets off soapbox*