Service dog scammers harm vulnerable residents

Giselle Suazo

Spending time with your pet can be as rewarding and great as spending time with any human — sometimes even better. It is natural to want to bring your dog everywhere you go but unfortunately not every place will welcome pets with open arms. Pet owners have found a loophole for this issue by buying fake service dog vests and downloading fake certifications so their dogs are allowed in public places. This is harming actual service dogs that have gone through training to help people with real needs. Don’t scam the service dog system just because you love being with your dog.

Differentiating real service dogs from fake ones can be tricky, but a dog’s behavior is a big indicator. Dogs selected to become service animals are put through an 18 month training period that starts when they’re two years old. Service dogs won’t bounce around a restaurant or snap at people around them. If a dog is behaving badly and not following its owner’s directions, then it's probably not a trained service animal.  

This is a large contributor to business owners denying entry to all dogs, service animal or not, to avoid bad interactions with customers. This puts a strain on people who actually need service animals around.

"The people who are out there misrepresenting service dogs is one of the [largest], if not the largest problem we have,” said Yancy Baer, an Army veteran who needs assistance from his two dogs, Verbena and Beanz, in an interview with KXAN. "You have dogs who don't have public access rights who aren't trained to responsibly behave in public. They bark, they growl, they lunge at other dogs or people even.”

Currently under the Americans with Disabilities Act service dogs are not required to have identification that proves they have been through proper legal training. The act defines service animals as dogs that are individually trained to do work, like guiding someone who is visually impaired, or perform tasks for people with disabilities. This leaves out service animals that are prescribed for emotional support. If an employee or business owner determines that the service animal isn’t providing a task or doing work for their owner, they can be subjected to further questioning. This is where a method of proper identification would be useful — one that isn’t easily downloaded by scammers off the internet. Dogs that complete the required training under current laws should also be required to have ID’s that confirm their service animal status.

The reality is service animals provide vital assistance to people with real needs — such as veterans and people with disabilities. The connection between a service dog and their owner is unique and special — nobody should be exploiting that just because they don’t want to leave their dog at home.

Suazo is a communication studies senior from Honduras. Follow her on twitter @giselle_suazo