Sherry Davis

Friday, Sep 27 2013 04:00 PM

SHERRY DAVIS: Phony 'service' dogs create problems for the real ones

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Columnist Sherry Davis.

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By Sherry Davis

Guide Dogs for the Blind intends to launch an ad campaign to shame people for purchasing phoney service dog vests, passing their dogs off as service animals and taking them into restaurants, grocery stores and other places a service dog is normally allowed access. That's according to a KERO Channel 23 news story.

Guide Dogs for the Blind has been forced to take this action because untrained pet dogs are creating so many disruptions that they're causing some businesses to deny dogs access even when they're truly assisting people with disabilities.

While I applaud Guide Dogs' efforts to expose this travesty and immoral conduct, it's probably going to take a little more than shaming to stop this flagrant manipulation of federal law. Despite the fact that fraudulent misrepresentation of a service dog is a crime that can include fines, businesses have become so fearful of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act that they are wary of denying even obvious fakers access. So offenders continue to execute this con with smug confidence.

The problem is so commonplace that I get at least one call a week from someone who wants me to certify their dog for no reason other than to take it with them into restaurants or on public transportation. (For the record: I only certify dogs for therapy work, and therapy dogs are not allowed to go anywhere that dogs are not normally permitted.)

Also earning a share of the blame for this problem are online companies that claim to be service dog registries. For about $250 people wishing to practice this deceit purchase a certificate of no discernible value, an ID card, a jacket and the assurance that because the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits people from asking a person the nature of their disability, a business cannot deny them access with their dog. There is no inquiry as to what tasks or work the dog performs; one simply needs a credit card.

And if that doesn't make you hot under the collar, it might not be much of a stretch to speculate that someone who sees no harm in passing a dog off as a service animal might find making fraudulent tax claims or improperly applying for Social Service benefits tempting.

Since this story aired on KERO, I have been flooded with calls from health care facilities saying that although they happily accept patients with well-trained service animals, they have suspicions about some dogs that aren't so well-behaved. Eager to operate within the guidelines of the law, they want to know how to identify a legitimate service animal.

Well, unfortunately, that's not always easy. Facility trained dogs like Guide Dogs for the Blind or Canine Companions for Independence are always impeccably trained and easily identifiable, but not all service dogs wear an identifying vest or harness and many dogs such as seizure or hypoglycemia-alert dogs accompany owners without visible disabilities and are not facility trained.

All service dogs, however, should be trained for public access and blend seamlessly into the environment when working without calling attention to themselves. That means that a dog that barks or whines uncontrollably, defecates or urinates or acts threateningly or aggressively is creating a disturbance and can be excluded from a public accommodation if it is out of control, or the handler can't get it under control.

The role of the service dogs in society is invaluable to those who need their assistance. They should be permitted access freely and their right to do so must be protected, as should the rights of business owners without the fear of financial loss or threats from these shamefully self-entitled people who fraudulently misrepresent their dogs.

-- Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/ owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at csi4k9s@yahoo. com. These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.

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