Focus on the dogís behavior, not the handlerís apparent lack of disability.
We have published articles, blog posts (on the WDJ website), and posts on the WDJ Facebook page about service dogs and dogs who serve as emotional-support animals (ESAs) a number of times. In every instance, a number of people have commented that there is a scourge of “fake” service dogs appearing in all sorts of places where non-service animals are not permitted. The alleged phenomenon makes people furious – both on behalf of the genuinely disabled, whose hard-working “real” service dogs are sometimes rudely interrupted by bad behavior from dogs who have no right to be in the same place, and out of a sense of injustice.
Many (most?) of us who do not have disabilities and do have well-behaved dogs would love to be able to take our dogs with us into grocery stores, shopping malls, banks, restaurants, trains, planes, and so on. On first blush, we may feel angry toward those people who appear to be able-bodied but are accompanied by a dog in a place where dogs are not normally permitted, thinking they are “cheating,” but I bet our resentment is tinged with a fair amount of envy, too.
Maybe I should just speak for myself. I’d love to bring my dog with me when I’m running errands, meeting friends for dinner out, and flying to a vacation destination. I do envy people who can be accompanied by their dogs in all of these places.
But if I allow myself to experience that feeling of envy for just a moment longer – if I think about the situation more deeply for just a minute – I feel ashamed. Some of the things that those able bodied-appearing people are dealing with would flatten me with despair. Would it be nice for me to take my dog into the bank with me? Sure. Would it be nice for that pretty young woman to be able to go to the bank without having to procure, train, manage, care for, and pay for an assistive aid that enables her to go to the bank without fearing that she might pass out, fall, and not be able to get up? Yeah, I bet that would be far nicer.
It may be galling to suspect that the person you see with a dog in a place where dogs are not allowed is a faker, that she has no disability. But given the fact that the vast majority of disabilities are invisible, the odds are good that you are just plain wrong, that the person has a great reason to be accompanied by her dog.
Badly behaved dogs are another story. Anyone who brings a dog into a public place is responsible for that dog’s behavior. Disabled or not, no one should have a right to inflict a loud, aggressive, or otherwise inappropriate dog on the general public – not to mention, the small, young, frail, elderly, vulnerable members of society. Ask any disabled person if his or her service dog has ever been attacked or at least approached by an unleashed, out-of-control dog; I haven’t met any service-dog handler yet who hasn’t had at least one of these frightening experiences.
With the article, "Service, Please" trainer Stephanie Colman offers a wealth of information about assistance dogs, and what to do if you see a badly behaved one in public. Let us know what you think about it all.