We were at a party last summer when one of the other guests started to talk about her son’s new service dog. As the conversation progressed, I started to ask about training and certification and all the pesky questions a pet blogger tends to ask. I was a bit shocked to learn that the “service dog” was a puppy that had no certification and hadn’t even been to puppy class yet. My first encounter with a new phenomena - fake service dogs.
What the heck!
I had done an interview a few months earlier with Bensenville-based Pits for Patriots. They outlined the rigorous 12-step process their dogs were undergoing and the high cost of that training before any dog gets his or her official vest. The organization trains rescued pit bulls to be service dogs for veterans. Yet, here was a puppy, bouncing across the yard being passed as a service dog.
Apparently, this is not a unique situation. In fact, as war veterans fight for status and approval for service dogs to help with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), more people are passing dogs off as service dogs that have little if any training. It’s caused more than one veteran recently to be asked to leave a place of business with his dog. It’s becoming a hot button issue and an added stresser for those who need service dogs.
“Many veterans benefit from having a trained service dog with them, if they suffer from issues such as PTSD,” explains Robert Misseri, president of Guardians of Rescue. “Yet, they are now being faced with additional stress because of people who are creating a rash of fake service dogs, leaving businesses unsure which are really true service dogs.”
Why would people want to do this? I understand wanting to be able to go more places with your dog. However, why fudge the issue when many people need service dogs for a myriad of issues from helping monitor blood sugar and seizures to assisting the blind and others with disabilities. There are many reasons why there are fake service dogs out there and why it’s a problem.
- Lack of uniformity – There is no standard certification that dogs must go through to become a service animal making it easy to get fake documentation. A quick Google search provides thousands of fake service-pet vests, leashes, patches and 'certification.' While training can cost tens of thousands of dollars, you can purchase a service dog kit online for around $250 that makes your pet appear to be a service dog.
- Behavior – Real service dogs are trained to assist, not protect. Because they are assisting they are to be quiet, not bark or growl and never be disruptive and they’re trained to sit on the floor, not jump on furniture or a lap. Those not properly trained may bark, growl, be disruptive or even get in altercations with other animals or people.
- Training – Proper training for service dogs is timely and costly. Many dogs start training as puppies and are tested early on to see if they make the cut. The Internal Revenue Service has approved service dogs as a medical cost. They are trained to help with various disabilities, including diabetes, seizures, autism, and epilepsy, among others. It is estimated that the cost to train a service dog can total as much as $50,000.
- Limitations. Businesses are limited by the Department of Justice on what they may ask. The only qualified question is if the dog is a service dog. You may not ask for proof of certification or proof of disability under current American with Disabilities Act.
- Exclusions. Because service dogs are trained not to be aggressive, business owners may exclude service dogs that display aggressive behavior toward other people. That includes growling, acting vicious or posing a threat to others.
“It’s a shame that some people feel it’s necessary to have fake service dogs,” adds Misseri. “All they are doing is making it harder on those who really do need them and who have professionally trained ones. It costs us $5,000 to train these dogs for veterans, but people are paying $39 online for a certification card and no training. We are severely underfunded in trying to help these vets and things like this are just making it more difficult for the vets who need these dogs.”
“I am outraged once again how veterans have to suffer, shared Jarrett Gimble, a former U.S. Marine who suffers from PTSD and has a service dog. “I recently attempted to go into a department store and wasn't granted permission because they believed my ID tags were fake, which caused me stress and was embarrassing.”
Guardians of Rescue is pitching in to help thanks to their Paws of War program that pairs shelter dogs with veterans suffering from PTSD or other psychological issues. According to the organization, an estimated 400,000 veterans are currently experiencing PTSD. Getting veterans pets for animal-assisted therapy is an effective method with many veterans benefitting from service dogs to help them function better in public. Learn more about the organization online.
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