By Lauren Combs | Reporter
Did you know that for a $20 purchase, you can take your pet virtually anywhere with no questions asked?
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, service animals are able to go into any facility, and property owners cannot legally ask about the disability the animal is assisting with. So, buy a fake service vest for your pet on Amazon, take your pet anywhere you want and no one can question the legitimacy of your fake disability. Seems convenient, right?
“Indeed, fake service dogs are so ubiquitous — or at least the awareness of them is — that they’ve crept into popular culture,” journalist Denise Flaim wrote for the WholeDog Journal. The article then references a “Tonight Show With Jay Leno” episode in which actress Natasha Leggero said she pretends to have epilepsy to get into restaurants with her dog.
However, this phenomenon raises a lot of ethical questions. Is it really harmless and fun to fake a service, therapy or comfort animal anywhere you go? The answer is no.
It is extremely disrespectful not only to people who actually suffer from a disability that requires animal assistance — like PTSD or mobility issues — but also to people who work hard to train these animals.
After personally training two therapy dogs, I learned that there is an extensive and rigorous process to earn the status of a therapy animal. I practiced training my dogs every day, had official practice every weekend and could test every six months to attain the therapy dog certification.
Testing included basic skills like heeling — having the dog walk at a perfect pace next to the handler — and role-play situations like the dog greeting someone with a walker. If at any point my dog slightly leaned on me, we would automatically be disqualified for lack of confidence.
There are also distinct training differences depending on the type of assistance the animal will perform.
Service animals require the most training because they cater to an individual’s needs for the duration of their life. They’re followed by therapy animals who are trained to generally support people with any kind of trauma over short durations. And lastly, they’re followed by emotional support animals who are minimally trained to provide comfort.
“The key difference between a service dog and an emotional support dog is whether the animal has been trained to perform a specific task or job directly related to the person’s disability,” Stephanie Gibeault, CPDT, wrote in the American Kennel Club.
Because of this, it becomes very evident which owners are faking an assistance status based on their pet’s behavior. While a pet shows interest in meeting people or animals around them — often pulling on the leash — trained animals stay next to their handlers and only pay attention to their job.
In addition to being disrespectful, faking an assistance animal could also be hurtful to the animal. Not all pets have the demeanor to handle the responsibilities of a therapy or service animal, putting stress on the pet.
“Never take the puppy that runs up to you first and then runs away,” Tracey Martin said in a Psychiatric Service Dog Partners article. “Take the puppy that comes up to you a little later, crawls into your lap and doesn’t leave. The first puppy will be a handful and have his own ideas about things. The second puppy will bond easily with you and be more likely to follow your moods and stay by your side.”
Yet, it is fairly easy to register any pet as an emotional support animal.
According to The Guardian, “To promote your pet to the status of an ’emotional support animal,’ or ESA, all you need is a therapist’s letter asserting the animal contributes to your psychological wellbeing.”
However, there is not an animal behaviorist involved to ensure the pet’s ability to provide that support. Taking your pet everywhere out of convenience could be detrimental to your pet’s health and behaviors.
Faking your pet as a service, therapy or comfort animal disrespects the owners, trainers and pets themselves. Stop bringing your pet places they don’t belong, leave them at home and consider yourself lucky that you don’t need an assistance animal.