Whole Dog Journal's Blog February 10, 2015

Cheaters Gonna Cheat

Posted at 08:20AM - Comments: (19)

A friend posted today on her FB page that someone in her neighborhood association had bragged on the neighborhood’s online discussion page that they were able to “get a doctor’s note” claiming that their dog was a “therapy dog,” in order to avoid having to pay a pet deposit for an apartment they were about to rent. I hope and trust that my friend excoriated the person and the tactic.

It really seems to me that our society is quickly reaching the tipping point on this “emotional support animal” (ESA) thing. No one seems to know what the laws are concerning legitimate service dogs – and everyone seems to think that “emotional support dogs” are afforded the same rights as service dogs (they are NOT). The laws were succinctly described in a terrific article in the New Yorker magazine (October 20, 2014 issue):

“In contrast to an emotional-support animal (E.S.A.), a service dog is trained to perform specific tasks, such as pulling a wheelchair and responding to seizures. The I.R.S. classifies these dogs as a deductible medical expense, whereas an emotional-support animal is more like a blankie. An E.S.A. is defined by the government as an untrained companion of any species that provides solace to someone with a disability, such as anxiety or depression. The rights of anyone who has such an animal are laid out in two laws. The Fair Housing Act says that you and your E.S.A. can live in housing that prohibits pets. The Air Carrier Access Act entitles you to fly with your E.S.A. at no extra charge, although airlines typically require the animal to stay on your lap or under the seat—this rules out emotional-support rhinoceroses. Both acts stipulate that you must have a corroborating letter from a health professional.”

On my most recent trip, I changed planes in the Seattle airport, and was frankly astonished at the number of dogs I saw in the airport wearing service dog vests. Given that exactly one of the dozens of dogs I saw appeared to have any training whatsoever, I sincerely doubt that we are experiencing an anxiety disorder crisis of epic proportions in this country; I think that the word has gotten out that you can bring your smallish dog on planes for free if you claim he’s an emotional support animal. 

Why do I care? Mostly because I want the rights of genuinely disabled people with trained service animals to be safe from legislative rollbacks caused by widespread problems caused by untrained, unsocialized dogs being taken into places where they have no right to go. I want legitimate service dogs to be able to perform their important jobs without having to fear being attacked by poorly supervised, ill-mannered dogs brought into stressful public spaces by unscrupulous, overprivileged  grownup brats who can’t accept that some people have more need of their dogs in public than they do. And I don’t want the people who really need their dogs, and have invested in their training and use, to have to suffer from judgmental looks of people who can’t readily see their disability.

Was * I * giving all those people with dogs in the Seattle airport judgmental looks? I hope not. Because I did have a really nice conversation with a young couple who was traveling with their newborn baby and an emotional support dog; the dad was an Army veteran, and his wife was a current Army soldier. The dog was officially in support of the dad – and you could tell, because she took the job seriously, watching him like a hawk and continually touching him with part of her body. I’m sure being in the busy airport with a newborn was stressful, and while he spoke in a jovial manner, the keen way that the dog was tuned into him convinced me completely that he was far more nervous than he was letting on. I want to believe in and support the use of dogs like this – not shaking my head at the some barky dog on a Flexi who stops to lift his leg on a row of chairs in the airport terminal.

Comments (19)

I served 25 years as the Animal Control Officer for a town on Cape Cod Mass. and have been a certified Master dog trainer since 1995. I have experienced the rise of fake service dogs for the last 15 years, rising to a disturbing level in the last 5 years. People lie because they want to let their dog walk on or stay for the day on the public beach with them in summer and claim it is a service dog, and in my worst case ever a fake service dog Bouvier des Flandres disemboweled a Yorkshire terrier at a Senior citizens center in front of about 50 horror stricken people. In a later situation a woman who claimed the Mastiff puppy that she bought after moving into subsidized housing was a diabetic alert service dog in order to skirt the pet rules attacked and mauled a neighbor's child. It is these cheaters that will add to the burden of the people who legitimately depend on the amazing dogs that are qualified and properly trained in service.

Posted by: Dogwench | February 16, 2015 4:13 PM    Report this comment

Agree with the writer somewhatbut I think you need to check a little bit more into the ADA requirements for a service dog emotional support dog PTSD dog, and yes a PTSD service dog is not an emotional support dogs. Please note that most of the PTSD dogs are trained for US military veterans to help them get thru everyday of their life to be their life. Please remember that a lot of our veterans coming back from war have the largest suicide rate in the others and United States. According to the ADA now a dog doesn't necessarily have to be trained by a professional. That means the owner can train his or own service. With that in mind I've my recommendation is that all service dogs and their owners go throughThe AKC good citizen program.

Posted by: tomw1618 | February 14, 2015 2:14 PM    Report this comment

Laurie and Tamadra, I have NO idea what state you are from, or where you get your information. Whether your trained dog requires certification (or registration) or not, is up to the individual state. Just like concealed weapon privileges. In fact, 32 states DO require certification (or registration), and it's up to the owner to find out what individual state rights are before any travel. Of those 32 states, 19 of them require you to carry your dogs current vaccination records with you tucked in their vest pocket.

Posted by: Paws4life | February 11, 2015 5:40 PM    Report this comment

This is exactly what I've been thinking about people who get their dog certified (aka buy a vest) just to get their dogs in the cabin of an airplane. How unfair to the people who have legitimate needs.

Posted by: Maxshowdog | February 11, 2015 4:03 PM    Report this comment

I'd like to also echo that only "certified" Service dogs are "real" is not true. A place of business is NOT allowed to ask for vaccine records, or any paperwork whatsoever. There's no difference between a vest bought online and one a "certified" dog wears, it's just a vest. The dog isn't even required to wear a vest!
What gets me is that stores and businesses that don't allow dogs are turning a blind eye to this issue, and they're not confronting anyone at all. I go to the supermarket, and see dogs on flexis, obviously acting like unruly pet dogs, and if I say something to management, they shrug and say they don't want to get sued. I only give dirty looks or say something when the dog is being unruly and obviously untrained. Word is out that all one has to do is say the dog is a service dog, and they get a free pass. I see them at zoos (in strollers no less!) movies, all over the place. What's worse, is many are PROUD of the fact they're lying!

Posted by: Tamandra | February 11, 2015 2:28 PM    Report this comment

I have dealt with anxiety (panic attacks) and depression for 20 plus years. I find it very sad most people don't recognize this as a disability because you can't see it by looking at them. However, I don't fly, or need my dogs to accompany me to the store. It is also sad that you cannot rent anywhere affordable with dogs, one reason many are dumped at kill shelters! My dogs ARE my emotional support! They are the reason I get out of bed everyday. While there may be cheaters, not everyone who has an ESA dog(s) is! And while I look for my new apartment or house, yes that will be in the lease agreement!

Posted by: Boolittledie | February 11, 2015 8:49 AM    Report this comment

Oy Vey, so many misconceptions in this area. Firstly, there is no such thing as a "CERTIFIED" service dog. I am pointing that out because someone mentioned they had one. A service/assistance animal does not have to be "certified" or "registered" or have any type of certification papers. The animal does have to be suitable for public access (non-aggressive) and trained to perform certain tasks that assist a person with a legitimate and bonafide physical or psychiatric disability. The reason the dogs are given public access is because of the person with the disability who needs their assistance. If you ban the dog, you are essentially banning the person, which is a violation of that person's ESA's are no longer covered under the protection provided by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). They haven't been since March 2011. Therapy dogs are in a different category altogether. Therapy dogs are family pets that have been certified by certain agencies that verify the dog is safe around people and other dogs so they can go to places (hospitals, nursing homes, schools, etc) where they've been specifically INVITED. They are NOT covered under the ADA and do not have public access, nor do they have any rights that any other family pet does not have. And lastly, to impersonate a person with a disability in need of a service/assistance dog is a FELONY.

Posted by: LaurieCWilliamsK9 | February 11, 2015 8:37 AM    Report this comment

Thank you so very much for writing this article. This is truly a growing problem for people like myself that own a Certified Service Dog. I am a trainer assistant at a wonderful non-profit training facility that train owners and their dogs to become their service dogs. They have to undergo a minimum of 4 days a week training for 18 months with their dogs, and these dogs are trained specifically for their particular needs (emotional is NOT one of them), they are tested at that time by a licensed adjudicator appointed by the state, and their training continues even after they are certified by the state. They are trained to get help in an emergency, to bring you your medications if necessary, retrieve the telephone, and some are trained on medical alert phones to press the 911 button. Many are medical alert dogs for seizure clients, walk assist dogs, and the list goes on and on. Certified Service Dogs are specifically trained to go UNDER your table at a restaurant, and are NEVER allowed to nibble on food that has been dropped. To add to the confusion of who's real and who's imagined, the person to whom the CSD is registered to never has to give an explanation for his/her disability or need for the dog. An establishment owner HAS the right to ask you for their shot records which you must carry with you at all times, and they have the right to ask said owner to see their identification numbers both for the state they are registered in, and their national registry number. They ALSO have the right to ask them to leave if the dog is disruptive in their establishment (barking, being a nuisance, or any other inappropriate behavior NOT typical of a genuine service dog) The police can be notified to authenticate the said claims of anyone portraying their dog to be a genuine service dog. It's important to note here that people getting these bogus vests on-line lack significant information that only a true registered service dog has on their vests at all times, regardless of what state they come from. Anyone with a knowledge of what those credentials are will be able to spot your bogus online vest in a heartbeat. I will not divulge that information here for obvious reasons. For those of you that think their dogs should be allowed to go anywhere - that our society is dog "paranoid" - consider this: There's an extremely high number of dogs that are never trained, isolated, never socialized with people outside your family, or with other dogs outside of your household. To grant you and your well-behaved dog the freedom to go wherever you like - the same laws to provide that freedom to you, would pertain to those dogs that will attack you and your dog at a moments notice. Where do you draw the line? Laws are set in place to protect us all against that happening. It's obvious that it's time to educate the public to eradicate the imposters that have not put in the time and or finances to go through the proper channels, as well as educating the public that these are working dogs. So please stop asking to pet my dog, or asking if your kids can pet my working dog. And I certainly do not deserve the nasty looks I get when I say as politely as I can - I'm sorry, she's working. Thank you for bringing this growing problem to light.

Posted by: Paws4life | February 10, 2015 9:01 PM    Report this comment

The writer has the unfortunate ongoing public ignorance about the distinction between "therapy dog" and "service dog." A "therapy dog" must pass several tests and is finally licensed as such. This animal CAN go in to certain hospitals and care centers with its caretaker, for the consoling of the patients. A therapy dog has NO legal right to enter food stores, restaurants, or apartment houses that disallow pets. A therapy dog has no special privileges such as the one you're talking about; and if its licensure is misued, the owner will most likely lose his her dog's therapy status.
What you are talking about is a "service dog." The distinction is adamant, and its ignorance often taken advantage of.

Posted by: Caliope Brattlestreet | February 10, 2015 1:00 PM    Report this comment

The real problem is how we bar dogs from public society. Try to rent an apartment with a well behaved dog, and if you can convince the landlord then expect your security deposit to be huge. Try buying a condo in a city where the strata council prohibits dogs taller than 12 inches, even though tiny dogs tend to bark more. Our local dog walking group is not allowed to walk through a huge grassy park, even though all dogs are leashed, trained, and humans carry poop bags. When I lived on a Northern beach, my dog was allowed only in the winter, when humans would not walk barefoot. Now I'm near tropical beaches and the rule is No Dogs No Way No How. Meanwhile humans let their pet cats stay out all night, killing our birds and pooping in our yard. I live in the center of a triangle of feral cat people who actually feed those wild creatures. My morning dog walks consist of stepping around dismembered rat guts and pulling my dogs away from the most disgusting cat poop. Cats get a free ride while dogs are restricted. And we wonder why dogs act out so badly in public. Try going to England where dogs are allowed in shops, dogs lay on the floor in pubs that serve food, and farmers ask only that dog walkers using the public foot paths close the gates to their fields or leash a dog if livestock is present. The dogs I see in England every year are more relaxed, social and better behaved. The humans are also more responsible with their dogs. So while I feel for those with true therapy dogs and understand the difficulties they face, the real culprit is the schizophrenic dog culture in America. Read LaurieR's post below.

Posted by: SundogsHawaii | February 10, 2015 12:27 PM    Report this comment

I am a registered nurse and my husband is a diabetic .Our boxer / st.bernard ..which we have raised from a pup naturally wakes my husband when his blood sugar drops low at night. We have our doctors recommendation for service animal and are patiently training him for proper social behavior but until he is mature enough and displays the behavior we expect we do not subject him to excess stress or anyone else to him Owners who need and love their dogs do this right..

Posted by: Dawn, RN | February 10, 2015 12:11 PM    Report this comment

If America would accept pets as part of the family...no one would have to cheat. America loves it's dogs! I wish our laws would reflect that!

Posted by: beanandbrillo | February 10, 2015 11:59 AM    Report this comment

A coworker got her Dr to write her a therapy dog note because she decided she couldn't afford to board the dog while she was away. I wish there was someone to report these people to. Same person cheats FMLA as well.

Posted by: CorgisKisses | February 10, 2015 11:27 AM    Report this comment

There are several organizations for trained and certified therapy dogs and they all have good venues for training both the dog and handler. These dogs/handlers have earned the title "Therapy Dog" and the benefits thereof. Service dogs are in a separate category, spending time in training since puppy hood and a couple of years beyond to get their certification. The people who have these service dogs have a real need for their "service" (seeing eye, hearing ear, ESA), regardless of how you label it.

Some states are aware that there are people who have bypassed the system just to take their beloved pets with them everywhere they go. Laws are being passed, but we must make sure that lawmakers are aware of how legitimate service and therapy dogs/handlers make a real difference in the world.

Posted by: AB in AR | February 10, 2015 10:16 AM    Report this comment

Wonderful article! Seems we are losing the concepts and practices of honesty and integrity. Cheating is okay if it benefits ME.

Posted by: Simone's Mom | February 10, 2015 9:50 AM    Report this comment

I have an eight year old female Golden Retriever who is a St. John Ambulance Certified Therapy Dog. We have been a Certified Therapy Dog Team for the past 2 years and have volunteered for over 400 hours during this time visiting retirement facilities, colleges and universities. My dog and I went through an extremely intensive valuation process to achieve this. She is the most gentle and friendliest dog you'll ever meet. Also I am a long haul trucker and travel the US and Canada extensively and my dog travels with me. She accompanies me into Customs facilities and into some warehouses when invited. Knowing where to go is the most difficult decision but her gentleness and impeccable manners seems to work. She has become a favoured visitor wherever we go.

If you want to have a Therapy Dog, go through the process ... it really is most rewarding and you can avoid being part of an annoying practice.

Posted by: BillyCanuk | February 10, 2015 9:37 AM    Report this comment

Yes... But...We live in a society that is, frankly, schizophrenic about the place of companion animals within it, and it is no wonder that the whole range of behavior humans exhibit when stressed and challenged plays out in these ways. We "love" pets and spend tons of money on them, but we live in buildings and neighborhoods where their presence is barely tolerated, to the extent that proper socialization of them is difficult. We gush over "animal lovers" but get starchily judgmental when one of them needs to take her dog on a bus, or into the post office. Having access to statistics that show how many households have dogs, and the percentage of them that consider those dogs to be family members, we fail to take their most basic needs into consideration when we plan housing developments and public amenities. We treat people who have a loved pet as though they should keep their companion as much as possible out of sight, contact or hearing of other people. People will cheat when they feel they are being treated unfairly, and yes, some people will cheat in any case. WDJ readers will say the remedy is having better trained and socialized animals as ambassadors, and of course, that is right. But anyone who has thought much about our contemporary society knows that there are deeper issues seething beneath the surface which need to be addressed.

Posted by: LaurieR | February 10, 2015 9:24 AM    Report this comment

I've seen a lot of this, too. I know of people who borrowed service vests so that they could fly their dog to an agility competition. I do consider this cheating and I totally agree with the author. I want the people with valid reasons to have working service dogs.

Posted by: suedognut | February 10, 2015 9:12 AM    Report this comment

It is not just the untrained dogs which are a problem. A person with a real service dog receives some training on who to deal with the dog in public. At a recent dinner in a restaurant there was a family with a doberman they were claiming is a service dog. We later learned through friends it was not.

The family allowed the dog to sprawl in the walkway between their booth and a nearby table. Everyone passing through that section of restaurant was forced to step over the dog. The person eating at the table had major difficulty pushing his chair out to go to the restroom. When I asked the family to move the dog since I was hesitant about stepping over a large, unknown to me dog, I was told it was allowed to be there because it was a service dog.

True services dogs are taught to lay out of the way by the person they are performing a service for. Obviously neither the people nor the dog were properly trained.

Posted by: Furrykids | February 10, 2015 8:44 AM    Report this comment

New to Whole Dog Journal? Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In