“You are so lucky to get to take your dog everywhere! How do I get my dog certified as a service dog?”
This is a question that we service dog handlers hear all too often. While my personal response to this is usually a snarky: “Well first you must have a debilitating disability,” here, I will try to explain things with a little more eloquence.
First off, what is a service dog and why does it go everywhere with its handler?
A service dog is a dog specially trained to perform tasks which will help mitigate a person’s disability. This may include helping someone with mobility issues pick up items off the floor, protecting a person from harm during a seizure, or perhaps alerting someone with PTSD that another person is coming up close behind. Service dogs get to go everywhere with their handlers because they are a medical necessity to them. It is also important to note that sometimes a service dog handler will choose not to bring their dog with them, and this does not decrease the legitimacy or necessity of the dog.
So, why shouldn’t you pretend your dog is a service dog? What is the harm?
Well first and foremost, it is against the law in most states. More importantly, it highly complicates the lives of actual service dog handlers in a variety of ways. Not long ago, I was walking through my local grocery store when I saw a dog that clearly was not a service dog. He was pulling on his leash, sniffing the food, and most importantly, his owner was doing absolutely nothing to correct his behavior. The dog saw us as they walked by, growled and pounced. Thankfully no physical harm was caused to my dog or myself. However, my dog became distracted from his job which could have put me in a lot of danger.
Now, imagine you own a restaurant. In the past week you have had someone come in with their “service dog”. The dog began sniffing around people’s tables, caused disturbances, maybe urinated on the floor. You might be tempted to tell the next service dog team to go away before even seating them at a table. Though, of course, this is just as illegal as passing your dog off as a service animal.
So, as a business owner, what can you ask and what are your rights?
Because of the amount of fake teams, it can be tricky for people to trust the legitimacy of service dogs, especially when the handler “looks healthy.” The Americans with Disabilities Act does not require any type of paper work or form of identification. It also does not require any type of vest to be worn (though most handlers will chose to have their dog vested).
You may not ask a service dog handler for paper work or proof of certification.
You may not ask a service dog handler about their disability.
You may ask two questions:
HOWEVER. If the dog is creating a disturbance (repetitive barking, growling, showing aggressive behavior etc.), you have the right to ask the service dog team to leave.
I hope I have demonstrated the importance of keeping your pets, no matter how important to you, out of public spaces (unless that space is dog friendly of course). Please do not pretend your dog is a service dog. It not only puts the lives of people with disabilities in danger, but it furthers the barriers to public access which they have been fighting to get for so many years.