On a recent trip involving the friendly skies, I encountered a number of service dogs in the airport and some were actual service dogs, meaning well-mannered and well trained. I admire a dog helping his guardian in whatever capacity he is required, but some of those dogs sporting a service dog vest, were not anywhere near a trained, true working dog.
Somewhere along the path of trying to make life easier for the disabled, we took a bit of a wrong turn in my opinion. I don’t think anyone objects to sharing a restaurant with a dog who is working in a skilled capacity or even helping with something unseen, but things are a bit out of control when an ill-tempered (growling at flight attendants), untrained (peeing in the aisle and pulling on the leash) and general ‘I’ve never been anywhere’ mentality passes for a service dog.
I like service dogs; I owned a service dog, Ammulett, who helped me for many years when I had a balance issue. But she was a REAL service dog. She was trained for my specific issues for over a year (not as long as some since she was born into my situation) to the tune of four thousand dollars by a certified trainer who specialized in service dog specifics. I had to have a letter from my doctor stating that my disability required or my life would be improved by using a service dog. And a video was also required. It had to demonstrate Ammulett helping me up from the ground and supporting my weight when I lost my balance. There had to be proof that she could do what I asked her to do.
That is apparently no longer the case. It is illegal for any business to ask why you need a service dog or what they do for you and in theory, the powers that be are correct, it isn’t anybody’s concern. But the ability to order a service vest for a dog over the internet without any backup credentials is creating a community of service dogs that are decidedly not in the ‘service’ field but the ‘I like to take my dog with me’ field.
Most people I know would purchase a seat for their dog (in the form of a kennel in the back of the plane) to take them along on a trip. I can guarantee none of my friends like sending their dog into the belly of a plane for what amounts to an anxious flight for both parties. For many it is very similar to sending their child into the bowels of the jet for the duration of the flight (an interesting notion to my way of thinking).
It is annoying and frustrating to share your space with an ill-mannered, untrained dog. Some dogs are like that and they are better off at home where they are obviously more comfortable.
The true problem with the ‘fake’ service dog is this. They are horrible ambassadors for the real service dog and will eventually make it difficult for disabled persons and their dogs to be welcome. That is the crime perpetrated by persons who are not disabled and using that disguise to gain entry for their dog to public places.
In my opinion there has to be some checks and balances. Perhaps a copy of the certification needs to be presented when purchasing a service dog vest. Or maybe a vest is only obtainable through a qualified trainer. Somewhere, a disabled person might have to encounter some uncomfortable questions in order to have the privilege of having a service dog accompany them. Being a disabled person, I would have no issue with some rudimentary questions if it meant certifying my service dog. They are, after all, not so much a right as a luxury.
Service dogs can open the life experiences of the disabled. Their dog is a doorway to their interaction in society, and an important partner in their lives. But some tough questions have to be answered and the protocol re-designed in order for that to remain an option; we must come up with a way to keep that non-service dog out of a vest so that a true service dog is welcome everywhere.