The Problem with Fake Service Dogs
The old saying, “it takes one person to ruin it for everybody,” reminds me of a widely practiced, but generally unacknowledged problem: people who acquire fake service dog certifications and misrepresent their dogs. Several states are implementing laws to crack down on this issue, and while it’s undoubtedly done with good intentions, will the changes actually be enough?
It's definitely a step in the right direction, but it's also relatively ineffective. Getting caught isn't as easy as it sounds. It’s illegal to inquire about a dog’s certifications, and service dogs don't require IDs. Business owners can ask what the dog’s required for and how it mitigates a disability, but that's it. Of course, a quick Google search beforehand makes those questions easy to answer. It is understandable why this is illegal—after all, medical history is private information. Allowing someone to inquire about it could lead to discrimination and harassment, especially for those with invisible illnesses.
While it’s easy to think that the people who claim their dog is a service dog are just capitalizing on the disabilities of others, I don’t believe that it’s done with cruel intentions. It’s more so driven by the love people have for their dogs, the desire to be around them and the lack of education about the threat their own dog can pose towards service dogs. Service dogs are rigorously and exceptionally trained. No matter how well behaved you think your dog is, they don't even compare to a service dog. Service dogs aren’t trained to defend themselves; if something sets your dog off and they lunge, playfully or not, it can create a dangerous, stressful situation for everyone involved. And, as strange as it may sound, not everyone is a dog person. Some people already feel inconvenienced and uncomfortable with actual service dogs in restaurants and shops, and your dog sniffing around, begging or barking at others is just contributing to the negative stereotype.
Of course, there’s still going to be that handful of people who refuse to see how their selfish actions are, so the best thing that you can do is look for signs that determine whether a dog is actually a service dog. Service dogs are docile and held to “four on the floor,” meaning that all four legs must be on the ground when they’re not assisting their owner. If someone's claiming their dog is a service dog, take note of their behavior. If they're being carried in a bag, trying to greet people, begging for food or making any sort of noise, that's your cue to inquire about their purpose.
There's still a lot of work to be done in brainstorming a law that isn't too lenient or overly intrusive. Until it can all be shaken out, the best we can do is be sympathetic and respectful to others while being aware of our own actions.