Before I go on “barking” I want to give some clarification.
First, I absolutely think that service animals are not only a necessity but a great partnership between human and canine. When I was in high school I wanted nothing more than to work for Leader Dogs for the Blind and become a trainer. Life takes you in funny places and that never became a reality. However, I absolutely believe in the partnership between man and dog as well as their amazing healing powers of mind and spirit. Dogs have been shown to help become the eyes and ears of those who need it. They also can help with those daily activities that most of us take for granted; getting medicine, food, opening doors, or simply picking up a remote. Dogs also have a calming effect and help with anxiety or even daily stresses. They absolutely provide us with a service and should continue to do so.
However, and this is where my barking comes in, more and more people are claiming their dogs are service animals when in fact they are not. People call their dogs “service” animals when they are in no way trained, certified or even prescribed to be a service animal. People take their dogs everywhere with them; to the mall, the grocery store, or even places like Target and Home Depot. The law doesn’t allow a shop owner or anyone else to ask to see papers that certify the dog as a service dog. You can ask and you can ask what service they provide but you can go no further. Law enforcement are the only ones who can actually demand to see papers but they very rarely if ever get involved.
The other problem is that it seems easier and easier to get a dog to be certified as a service dog. Doctors can write prescriptions for people to let their dog be a service animal and this often comes with the doctor never meeting the dog or even interacting with them.
I have trained dogs for CGC (Canine Good Citizen) and TDI’s (Therapy Dog International) and they require certain skills and basic behavior to even make those certifications. However, now it seems like anyone can have a service dog.
I witnessed a few acts of the abuse of calling your animal a “service dog” when in fact they are not. First was an incident that occurred on a TriMet bus in the Portland area a few years back. An individual took his large and untrained Rottweiler on the bus under the guise of being a service dog. The driver had no recourse to not allow the dog on. During a routine bus trip one day a woman was on the bus that had a small certified service companion that she used to help with anxiety being out of her home. Unfortunately the Rottweiler attacked and severely injured the other dog while on the bus. It was only at that point they were able to actually determine he wasn’t a real service dog. The incident should have never happened. The second incident was when I was flying home from a business trip. I observed a woman with a dog in the seating area at the gate. The dog was hyper, barking and lunging at nearby passengers. I thought to myself, “Surely this can’t be a ‘service’ dog”. Imagine my anger and frustration when I was called up to the gate and bumped from the seat I paid extra to be in because the “service dog” needed the room. I was so angry that I told the clerk, “If that’s a service dog then I’m the fucking Queen of France”. I was lucky to still fly but the clerk said she saw the “papers”. When I got home I looked into it and found out just how easy it was to get a “service” dog on an airplane; talk about being flabbergasted and frustrated.
While at the Dog Park yesterday there was an individual who had a “service dog”. He even admitted to the dog not being trained in any way and commented on his inability to properly care for the dog due to the dog’s coat (a Poodle/Siberian husky mix). This was a rather large dog with little to no manners. He said he took the dog with him absolutely everywhere and I was confused as to how he handled the dog and what services were actually provided by the dog. The worst part was another woman chimed in on how she was going to get her Chow/Husky mix certified just so she could take him into an apartment.
I can understand the love people have for their dogs and the desire to have them be a fully integrated part of their lives but going under the guise of “service dog” is doing a disservice to true service dogs. I think we need stronger legislation and restrictions on certifying service dogs so that we can weed out those who really do provide a service and those who do not. Something needs to be done before it is ruined for those who truly need it.
What do you think? Weigh in on the topic!