Ah, the fake service dog. Like out-of-sync traffic lights and above-ground power lines, they’re one of those things that make my normally mild British temperament fall by the wayside.
Allow me to rephrase that - it’s not the dogs that make my blood boil, but rather their owners. Who are these people? You’ve probably seen them. For me, the most recent was a lady in the grocery store with a teacup poodle in a Coach purse. Before that, there was the guy in the health food store pushing a Yorkshire terrier in a stroller. A few years ago it was a rather surly gentleman on a bus in Philadelphia. His “service dog” kept trying to attack an elderly passenger’s footed cane. And remember my friend Sue from last week’s column? Yeah, her actual service dog was recently attacked in public by a Corgi wearing a homemade service dog vest.
For the past five or so years, there has been a marked increase in incidents of pet owners who attempt to pass off their unsocialized pets as emotional support animals. Add to that the growing number of handlers who attempt to pass off their emotional support animals as service dogs, and you have the makings of a perfect storm that makes life more difficult for a demographic that already faces considerable challenges: the disabled. If you think I’m exaggerating for effect, think again.
Airline complaints against ESA’s and their handlers have risen steeply, causing many to demand a crackdown. As a response to this very issue, a recent law was passed banning so called service dogs from riding in shopping carts. Another new law makes misrepresenting a pet as a service dog a second-degree misdemeanor.
In all of the events I have personally witnessed, the humans handling these canine culprits shamelessly bullied service providers who were unaware of their rights. They blindsided these hard-working individuals by brandishing letters, threatening lawsuits, and throwing the kinds of public temper tantrums that would put a toddler to shame.
If you are one of these people, I am calling you out. If you would like to leave nasty comments, send me indignant emails, or blow up my social media accounts, be my guest. The traction is awesome and brings lots of hits to my website. I probably won’t bother to respond to you because I don’t have time to be bothered with entitled jerks - and that, my dear imposter, is exactly what you are. If on the other hand, you’re one the many beleaguered employees that has had to deal with said jerks, then listen up.
An emotional support animal is NOT, repeat NOT a service animal. They are not the same thing. ESA’s are NOT working animals. They are pets. For a refresher course on the differences click here.
A service dog has the right to accompany a handler wherever the general public is allowed. ESA’s are pets. If pets are not allowed, then neither are ESA’s. Period! Exceptions are made in matters of housing and air travel, but that’s it.
Emotional support animals are not required to go through any special training - and oftentimes, to be perfectly honest, it shows. If a so-called service dog is barking, sniffing, exploring, socializing, growling, lunging, freaking out at the sight of an old lady’s cane,or doing anything other than focusing exclusively on its handler, it is probably not a service dog.
If the animal is not a service animal, it is not entitled to be there. You can ask them to leave, and you should. This is not just a matter of principle. It’s a matter of complying with the rules and laws that may govern your place of business. Do you really want to be saddled with health code violations and the fines that accompany them because a hyper-attached pet owner just had to bring Fluffy to brunch? No pets allowed means just that. Even legitimate emotional support animals are still pets. You have every right to ask their handlers to leave, even if they get nasty.
If you’re reading this article and wondering what kind of person would risk jail time and fines for the privilege of schlepping their pets around, you’re not alone. As long as they’re promised anonymity, fakers are very frank about their motivations. They often cite reasons such as not wanting to leave their pets home alone, not wanting to hire dog walkers, not wanting to crate-train, separation anxiety (presumably the pet’s!), convenience, not wanting to pay a fee to fly with their pet, or my personal favorite, “This country is so backwards. In Europe, you can bring a dog anywher.!” I’m European and guess what? When my wife and I go out to brunch, we leave our dogs at home. Here’s why:
It’s. The. Law.
Perhaps the all-time prize-winner was the pet blogger who bragged that her fake service dog was the best trained dog she knew. I will not publish her name or the link to the article because I refuse to reward her behavior with money and/or attention, but the long and the short of it was that she felt the privilege of taking her dog in public was her reward for having put so much time and effort into training said dog. The piece reeked of entitlement and sent my blood straight to the boiling point. Thankfully, the author’s self-righteous attitude was ripped to shreds in the comment section, so perhaps the world has not gone completely mad just yet.
I’ll close this article with a missive from a client whom I’ll call Bob. Bob is combat veteran who survived a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and a second in Iraq. He came home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and his service dog has been vital in helping him along the long road to recovery. He explained his frustration with the fake service dog phenomenon as follows:
“When people get burned by a fake service dog team, they develop anti-bodies. Then I come along with my legit service dog, and there’s an issue. They get defensive, or they ask questions they’re not supposed to ask, they give me attitude, they tail me like I’m some kind of criminal. Dude, the ‘S’ in PTSD stands for ‘stress’. I don’t need that “expletive”. And on a bad day, I can’t handle it. I knew when I enlisted that my choice involved risk, so I’m not looking for anybody’s sympathy. I’m looking to get my life back. All I want is for people to respect a set of laws that allows people like me to keep going. I don’t think that’s so terribly much to ask.”
Neither do I.
But if you’re surfing Etsy to find a convincing-looking service dog vest for Snowflake, well, apparently you do. Way to go thanking our wounded warriors for their service. I told you I was going to call you out, and while I realize the animal section is generally a place for feel-good pieces, I hope I made you feel bad about yourself. If I did, don’t despair. The fix is an easy one. Instead of the faker-vest, buy Snowflake a nice fluffy bed and an interesting toy. She’ll have great fun with both when you go out for brunch and leave her - and your “letter”- at home.
For more information about service dogs, please visit the Americans With Disabilities Act’s website.
Do you have a question for Dr. Kupkee? Send him an email by clicking here.
My name is Melissa Jarboe, military spouse, wounded warrior wife and war widow. Today and everyday moving forward, I will honor the sacrifice of our men and women who selflessly serve our nation.