Have you seen the dog in the service vest, dragging its owner through the mall, or surfing the tables for scraps in the food court? How about the little dog who sits behind you on an airplane, barking? If you haven't experienced this first hand, trust me, it’s happening.
Due to loopholes and lack of screening, our society is seeing an ever-increasing number of illegitimate service animals in public places. Service dogs have an undeniably valuable place in our society today, enabling people with disabilities to live a more independent life. They are required full public access by the ADA under Title II and III. Anywhere their handler goes, the service dog may accompany them. Service dogs need to be specially trained to perform tasks that directly help their disabled handler, often taking from 9 to 24 months. Training is crucial, and must be completed correctly, as handlers often rely on their service animal to keep them safe. A service dog is only appropriate when a person is truly limited or unable to participate in normal activities due to said disability; a trained service animal can provide relief in these circumstances by performing specific tasks or behaviors.
Unfortunately, some people attempt to gain public access for their pet by falsely identifying them as a service dog. There are many websites that sell bogus service dog registration or certification packages, and some will even write false recommendation letters from a “doctor.” This unethical act can give service animals a bad name, and is morally unacceptable.
Similar to a Service Dog, an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is an animal that provides comfort and support to a handler with severe emotional difficulties or disorders. This title as well needs to be taken seriously and represented accurately. Although no formal training is required, an ESA is NOT considered a pet, as they are crucial in providing many with often life-saving support. While ESA’s have the right to fly on an airplane with their handler and live in an “animal free” residence, their rights do not extend to public access. It is important to educate the public on the value and seriousness of the working dogs in our society, and the importance of maintaining the high standards and reputation the service dog community holds. By doing this I hope more people will realize the weight and importance of representing their animal accurately.
Service Dogs are working animals.
• Ask permission before approaching or interacting with a service dog. When working, it is important the service animal does not become distracted.
• Never allow your dog to approach or greet a service dog.
• Be respectful of privacy; refrain from personal questions about the dog’s job, or handler’s disability - not all disabilities are visible.
• Service dogs do not require paperwork, but ESAs require a note from a mental health professional.