Service Dog Scammery, Redux
Last year I offered you what was perhaps the most hate mail-inciting post I've ever written. In it, I bemoaned the fact that pit bulls were banned in Miami-Dade County, where I live. I protested that the only way to legally keep a pit bull within the confines of my county's borders was to keep one as a service dog (as I'd just learned back then, the Americans with Disabilities Act trumps any local law).
In so doing, however, (and here's where I went wrong) I referenced my own pit bull foster dog at the time and pointed out the irony: that I had only to call her a service dog to keep her safe from the county pit bull cops, since law enforcement can take away your dog and have her killed, but they can't ask you to actually prove whether she's a service dog or not.
Clarification: In no way was it my intention to advocate in favor of the kind of service dog fraud I'm well aware happens altogether too often. In fact, I'd written previous posts clearly condemning this kind of unscrupulous, service-dog-faking behavior. Yet that didn't keep at least one disgruntled reader from panning my post on a service dog list serve, characterizing it as evidence of my own willingness to fake a dog's service status.
Hence, how my e-mail inbox managed to get pelted by a virtual hailstorm of vilification on the subject. It was not a fun couple of weeks. Every time I logged on I could feel my body's instinctive response to the negativity I half-felt I deserved for raising the topic at all.
By that time, however, it was no longer worth clarifying my point of view on the subject, or explaining that I'd meant the opposite of what had been inferred from my post. (Yes, irony can be a hard thing to convey clearly and effectively, especially when the subject is an emotional one.) I simply apologized for any intimation that service dogs could or should be faked and promised to be careful about how I wrote about this issue in the future.
This was why I'd totally abandoned the subject of service dogs — in any capacity — until now. Though I believe it worthy of continued discussion, and the issue undoubtedly deserves a higher profile as a trend that must be addressed, the fact remains: Once insulted, any given community can be really, really unforgiving … despite any well-meaning clarifications. So I wasn't about to go there again without a really, really good reason.
Lately, I've had a few. Consider…
1 …the gorgeous pointer I saw prancing through the airport last week with one of those fake service dog vests. Now, the dog may have been the real deal but the vest was one I'd seen before, being worn by a client's pooch (my, how she loved to show off her dog's mail-order service dog credentials!). Further, this dog looked for all the world like a premium exhibition candidate.
Now, I may not be an AKC judge (and thank God for that!) but after years and years of dog repro work, I know a "Class A" show dog when I see one; especially when he's being handled by a pro.
No, this was no service dog. I would almost bet my career on it.
2 …the career salesman client who asked how he might get his obese (and therefore over-the-weight-limit) miniature pinscher service-dog-certified so he might take him on all of his business trips. After explaining that the rules were in place to protect the truly needy and that veterinarians weren't in the habit of flouting the law, he relented and agreed to pursue the recommended weight loss solution instead.
3 …the "service dog" I saw in the supermarket a few months ago. This purse-bound Yorkie was nothing if not the average, oblivious totee owned by the ubiquitous Gucci-slave Miamian we all know and (do not) love. Her chilly chastisement of the Publix manager, who displayed poor form by asking for her credentials, impressed the entire line of folks behind her with "My husband's a lawyer!"
4 …this week's widely distributed Sun Sentinel article on the subject of service dog fraud:
Owners and trainers of service dogs are increasingly angry at pet owners who pass their animals off as service dogs by using phony credentials.
The impostors go to the Internet to buy vests, ID cards and certificates for their dogs. The deception allows their pets to live in restricted housing, accompany them inside restaurants and hotels or fly for free in airplane cabins rather than in cargo holds.
So begins an unfortunately all-too-limited piece on a subject that deserves more traction than it currently gets. After all, service dog fakery is on the rise, which can only mean two things:
a. Those who are truly disabled and require animals to perform specific functions are potentially getting short shrift from businesses that would reject their qualified patronage on the basis of their non-human accompaniments. This, because of those who have passed off their less-than-serviceable, behaviorally-challenged pets as representative of legitimate "service dog" assistants.
b. Pet owners are increasingly unwilling to accept the status quo when it comes to where their pets are allowed to go. They demand equal access to airplanes, trains, public transportation, restaurants, and other establishments. Unfortunately, some bad actors reject legal limitations on their pets' free access not by fighting the fundamental fairness of these laws, but by thumbing their noses at legislation whenever loopholes beckon — never mind the collateral damage.
Now, while a would seem to take precedence in all conversations on the subject, can you blame me for raising b? After all, it's the most reasonable explanation for why the trend towards service dog scams seems to be picking up steam. It only makes sense that service dog fraud would raise its ugly head in a society where dogs are relegated to the smallest parks and the crummiest beaches, banned from eateries and retail shopping venues, and generally regarded as pariahs by the transportation industry.
Clearly we need to promote greater access, safer travel and fairer laws for all pets, not just for service dogs. Because when the alternatives to service dogdom include not just dog-less dining but dodgy transportation and right-to-death legislation, it only makes sense that the public would revolt. Unfortunately, it also means that the ethically challenged and just plain ignorant will continue to exploit the law's inadequacies on the backs of the disabled.
Dr. Patty Khuly
Pic of the day: Lola thinks Elvis could stop dominating her culture; he's dead. by hmmlargeart