Friday, June 8, 2012

Fake Service Dogs?

Seems some people are griping about "fake service dogs."  They may or may not have a service dog of their own; but, they get emotional and sometimes downright angry when they see someone they think is not disabled with a service dog on a plane or in a restaurant. I question if there really is such a thing as a "fake" service dog.

A friend of mine just returned from a trip to visit her grandchildren in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She was telling me that the public places were much more dog friendly there than here in Alaska. That's understandable. A little web surfing leads me to believe that more places in the US are more like Alaska than Virginia Beach. So, maybe there are a few people finding a way to bring their dogs along where they go. As long as the dogs and people are well behaved and courteous what is the problem?

Seriously. Here is the official US wording:

The Americans with Disabilities Act ( ADA) has a three-part definition of disability. Under ADA, an individual with a disability is a person who: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; OR (2) has a record of such an impairment; OR (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. physical impairment is defined by ADA as "any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine."
Neither ADA nor the regulations that implement it list all the diseases or conditions that are covered, because it would be impossible to provide a comprehensive list, given the variety of possible impairments.
That's exactly right. You cannot tell if a person is disabled by looking at them.
So, is their dog really a service dog? Let's see what is a service dog?

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.
Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office.  
Courtesy of

So, there is no real way to tell if the dog is "fake" why not ask? Well, be careful there too. Here is the law:

When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
 And, not ever service dog is perfectly behaved in every situation. While they are not human they have bad days. They have ultra sensitive sense of smell and hearing. Sometimes, their experience is very different from our perception. Some dogs do not regularly travel in public.  My dog, for example, performs most of his service while I sleep. To make it possible for me to safely travel away from home he needs to accompany me on public transit, in restaurants, and shopping though it is not his normal routine when we are at home.  He is very good at this though may appear somewhat uncomfortable with it. I'm sure he is. And, he is made further uncomfortable by people who question why he is present or how they can take their dog along too.  He is is very real and very necessary.  He has saved my life on several occasions.  He is not FAKE.

I will tell you it is a lot of work to have your service dog with you.  People do ask for you to explain or to interact with your working dog. You have to be mindful of the dogs' needs as well as remind all service providers that there is a law protecting the right to be accompanied by a service dog. If there is someone "faking" it then they are certainly not taking an easy out just to have their dog with them. I'm usually happy to answer questions and educate. But, it is draining. Some people have disabilities that make this communication next to impossible. I think the public just wants to know more and most likely wishes we had a more dog tolerant culture and society. But, rarely have I experienced anyone evaluating my right to have a service dog or my need for one. I try to use levity when I can and only on a few occasions have I had to be firm with someone.  I simply explained that without my dog I could have a seizure on the spot. Which would be less objectionable: A person having a seizure in their place of business or a dog quietly laying at my feet under the table?

To be honest, I've taken more criticism for my owner trained service dog from other service dog owners than I have from anyone else. Yes. It is quite legal to train your own dog. In fact the law says that a service dog in training receives the same consideration as a service dog even when handled by a non-disabled person during it's training.  Is a dog in training "fake"?

I guess I still don't understand why the uproar over "fake" service dogs.  Maybe your comments will educate me.

It is is not a privilege to have a service dog. It is a right. It is a responsibility. It is not in jeopardy. I'm sure there are those out there trying to raise fear in the ranks of the disabled by telling them otherwise. It simply isn't true. So calm down everyone and enjoy your dogs. Let's start lobbying for a more dog friendly public while we're at it.
-- sorry I'm too tired to add pictures right now - I'll find some in a few days and pretty up this post. Just needed to get it off my mind and out in the blogosphere.

Monday, June 4, 2012

I Don't Understand Dog Shows

"I don't understand dog shows," remarks a friend. I just finished up a 3 day weekend showing my Shetland Sheepdog in our local specialties. I thought hard about her comment all weekend. I used to laugh it off and reply, "Me either." Or avoid the question entirely; but, this particular friend has a standard poodle who is her service dog and it bothered me.

On the surface dog shows seems to be a beauty pageant where we fluff and preen, chalk, and groom until our arms ache. Then, we run around in circles and expose ourselves to the criticism of judges, fellow exhibitors, and breeders. On some levels it is a dysfunctional social event. But, we are showing dogs bred to a standard. The dog in the ring must meet a specific standard just to be exhibited. The judge chooses the dog that in their opinion most closely meets that standard and "showed" well that day.

Why is that important? Because to breed to that standard means we are trying to breed healthy, sound dogs that can do the work the breed is designed to do. Yes, genetics and science factors heavily; but, breeding is an art. No one can never exactly predict what a breeding will produce. Thus, not every puppy is "show quality." That is the goal. The basic health and temperament of the puppies is more predictable making for a versatile dog with longevity.

My friend's service dog poodle may not be show quality but it comes from a reputable breeder who is breeding to standard.  The breeder was able to choose a puppy for her with the aptitude to learn, the structure and health to live a good long, healthy life, and the temperament to withstand the rigors of a service dog's daily life.

Does that mean that getting a rescue dog is a bad thing? No, not at all; but you really don't know what you're getting.  You stand a greater chance of your dog being lame, going blind, having cancer, or having other health problems are a younger age. Perhaps even dying young.  No, that's not true for every mixed breed and sometimes we get lucky. But, showing our dogs is important beyond the sport and social aspect. When we show dogs we put a great amount of our time, money, effort, passion, and faith in a single dog or line. Quality is at the heart of it all.

So, when the chalk dust clears and the ribbons are all handed out, photos taken and grooming equipment stowed until the next show, I take my dogs out to the mountains and we go for a celebratory hike.  They sleep on my bed and under my desk. What's wrong with showing dogs?