Don’t Fake It: Service Animals and Their Role
If you’ve ever seen service animals at work, you’ve probably marveled at their loyalty, intelligence, and training. An estimated 50,000 Americans rely on service dogs every day. These animals accompany their handlers everywhere, performing tasks that allow people to live, work, and go to school.
Unfortunately, the rise of fake service animals has negatively impacted those who truly depend on their four-legged companions.
Service Animals 101
It’s important to understand the difference between various types of service animals:
- Service dogs – A service dog is one who’s completed specific training to perform duties for their handler. This may include guiding a visually impaired person, predicting a seizure or diabetic incident, or assisting someone with post-traumatic stress disorder. Protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), these dogs are legally allowed to enter any public space or business in order to assist their handler.
- Therapy animals – Therapy animals receive generalized training and provide comfort and support to people in distress in a clinical setting. These animals are typically calm, loving, and enjoy being touched by people. They can help those in nursing homes, hospitals, and cancer centers, but are not granted the same access to public areas as service dogs.
- Emotional support animals – Emotional support animals don’t receive any special training, but they can be part of a treatment plan to help relieve anxiety, depression, or medical or psychological issues. Like therapy dogs, these animals are not allowed in every public area and are not protected by law.
The Problem with Fake Service Animals
The training for legitimate service dogs is rigorous; however, there’s currently no national certification or registry. This makes it relatively easy to pass off a pet as a service animal. People can (and do) order a service animal vest online, and business owners have no way of knowing whether an animal is truly a service dog.
The ADA makes it illegal for a business to question a handler about their disability or the legitimacy of their service animal. This makes it even more difficult to crack down on imposters.
Trying to pass off a pet as a service animal seriously hurts the validity and acceptance of true service animals. Untrained pets also put legitimate service animals and the public at risk, as they aren’t prepared to behave in public settings and businesses.
Awareness is Key
People with disabilities face daily challenges that service dogs help them overcome. Fake service animals diminish the lived experiences of these individuals and disregards all the hard work and accomplishments of real service animals.
These problems have led 21 states to pass legislation that cracks down on people trying to pass off regular pets as service animals; more states will likely follow suit. The goal is to increase awareness of this issue and to minimize the impact fake service animals have on society.