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Kai, a service dog in training, looks back toward her handler, Christina Samoy. | Photo by Bowie Cargile

OPINION: Fake service dogs a real problem

Disguising your pet as a service dog is not only illegal, but a danger to those who actually need them.

Disguising your pet as a service dog is not only illegal, but a danger to those who actually need them

Service dogs, defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, is a “dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”

While you may miss your pup during school, bringing an untrained service dog on campus is dangerous to a trained service dog and their handler, sometimes referred to as a team. Not only are service dogs trained to alert and task to certain triggers, when untrained dogs are in the area acting up, it can distract a service dog from alerting their handler and can potentially be life threatening.

Not all disabilities are visible, so you should not automatically assume that because you can’t see something “wrong” with a person, the service dog is fake.

If you are unsure if the dog is a service dog, you can ask them two questions defined by the ADA, “ (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.”

Christina Samoy waits for Kai, the service dog in training, to touch her hand with her nose on Sunday, February 3. | Photo by Bowie Cargile

For those who are in need of a service dog, paying an organization to fully train a dog can be thousands of dollars. “Organization-trained service dogs can cost up to $25,000,” according to the American Kennel Club.

Self training is an option. The only risk with self training is that not all dogs are suitable for working and it may take years for a dog to be fully trained. The AKC estimates “the dropout rate for organization-trained service dogs can be as high as 50 to 70 percent.”

If you see someone training their dog in public or working with their service dog, ask to pet their dog before assuming you can. Although the team is in public, it does not mean you have the right to pet their working dog.

Petting a dog when uninvited can be triggering for some when strangers get too close. It is extremely distracting to a team that is training in public when every few minutes someone asks to pet the dog or makes sounds to get the dog’s attention, so be mindful and wait until given permission.

Kai looks back while practicing her wait command during training on Sunday, Feb. 3. | Photo by Bowie Cargile

While Humboldt State University’s policy “strongly encourage[s] handlers to use an identifying vest, tag, leash, or other visible method to indicate to the general public that the animal is a service dog,” they are not required by the ADA.

At the end of the day, a service dog and their handler is a team that would like the same respect as everyone else. If you get to know the dog’s name, make an effort to know their handler’s name.

There’s no need to feel like you can’t make eye contact with the team, but just remember that when the team is working, it’s best not to distract them.

If you’ve been given the option to have an emotional support animal, know the ADA does not give your animal the same access that service animals have.

Many landlords have had potential renters lie about their animal being a service animal, so when people with actual service dogs apply for the space, they are sometimes rejected or are expected to pay additional rent for their animal, which is illegal under the Fair Housing Act. However, landlords can ask for a pet deposit to cover any damages that may be done by the service animal.

The next time you think about bringing your pet to class or other areas where pets aren’t allowed, consider leaving your pet at home for the safety of others. If you aren’t in need a service animal, don’t buy a vest and put it on your pet so you can take them into public spaces.

Christina Samoy and Kai, a service dog in training, take a break from their training session on Sunday, Feb. 3. | Photo by Bowie Cargile

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