|This is Teddy. Services he provides include: licking sticky |
fingers, assertive snuggling, and eating
rejected crusts of toast.
We locals do our shopping on Wednesday, and stock up, because going to Safeway on the holiday weekend is the stuff of crazy-making. Standing in line behind an entitled doofus who is outraged over the lack of gluten-free beer selection is never high on my list of "good times."
Unfortunately, Curlytop needed a pair of sunglasses because hers went missing or got broken or were stolen by faeries, so I had to brave the variety store.
Standing at the spinning display of kids' shades while Curlytop tried on every... single... pair (because, you know, they have to feel right, and if they smell different than the others, that's noteworthy, too), we were nearly knocked over by a dog.
A big one.
A Great Dane.
I nearly lit into the handler, but then I noticed the vest.
The dog was wearing a blue vest which read, "Service Animal." It had pockets on it, and it was filthy. I could hardly make out the words, for all the dirt and grime on the vest.
I hesitated, thinking maybe the dog was just so big, it had a hard time getting through the narrow walkways between the display racks, but then I saw the dog was literally pulling its handler along, and bounding down the aisles, stopping to sniff at every passerby and end-cap.
I hope I don't have to tell you that this is not how service dogs behave.
I know, because I have clients who train service dogs. I have a daughter in vet school who occasionally fosters and works with service dogs in training. I have spent time around many a service dog, and this dog was doing it wrong.
See, it's become pretty easy to "authenticate" a fake service dog, and people are doing it in droves. Seriously, I can go to eBay right now, and get a "service dog" vest with authentic-looking information cards with an official-looking seal, telling all about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) -- for less than twenty bucks for either Teddy or Kipper. Neither of them has had any training, save for learning to tolerate Curlytop and Snugglebug dressing them up in doll clothes and costume jewelry.
To be clear, I am not talking about Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), which have a much lower standard to meet, as regards a public access test. ESAs need generally only be able to follow simple commands, behave on-leash, and not show aggression toward other animals or humans. I have friends who gain comfort and assistance from ESAs, and that is not what I'm talking about, here. (ESAs are NOT protected under federal law, by the way.)
I'm talking about service animals, which, by definition, must have accessory training beyond standard obedience courses, and must provide particular assistance to their humans. The assistance might be seizure detection, boundary protection to an autistic individual, support for the hearing- or sight-impaired, carrying of medical equipment, or any other number of support duties performed by service animals.
These animals and their owners, rightly, are protected by federal law.
Having a legitimate service animal means the owner is saying, "I have a disability, and this animal is necessary for my day-to-day functioning." Of course, federal law prohibits asking what that disability is, but but it does allow establishments to ask two things:
- Is the dog required because of a disability? (Again, establishments cannot ask what the disability is)
- What specific service or task is the dog trained to provide?
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