A while ago, I was asked a question about making a dog a service dog. The person meant well so as I was explaining the process, others started listening in and I realized something. There is a huge misconception about what a service dog is, does and how they come to be. So this is my best attempt at explaining.
If you look up Service dog on the internet, 6 of the 8 sites that come up are about registering your dog as a service dog and taking your dog everywhere. It makes it seem like all you need to have a service “dog” is a decently trained pet (apparently the term dog can mean bird, snake, cat, turkey ect), some money, and abracadabra, your animal can go anywhere. Some of these sites are free, but most cost anywhere from $25-$150 for a service animal packet. Once this process is complete, most people think they are free to take their beloved pet anywhere they want. Sadly, these people are breaking the law. And while some realize it, others do not. Once again this is illegal and is not how you “get” a service dog.
Some where along the way people have forgotten that service dogs have a specific purpose and are considered medical equipment. They simply want to take their pet with them because it’s “fun”. Now do not get me wrong, I love having Bella but if leaving her home meant I didn’t have a disability I would. When someone asks my about “getting” a service dog my first statement always sounds harsh. “In order to qualify for a service animal you must be legally disabled according to your doctor, are you?” I feel bad when I say this, because I sound judgy or noisy but it has to be said and the answer determines how the rest of the conversation goes. Plus if they are really planning on getting a service dog, that will be the least invasive of questions they will face.
Definitions (I know ugh wiki but it was easy to find)
Disabled: physically or mentally impaired in a way that substantially limits activity especially in relation to employment or education (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
Disability: is the consequence of an impairment that may be physical, cognitive, intellectual, mental, sensory, developmental, or some combination of these that results in restrictions on an individual’s ability to participate in what is considered “normal” in their everyday society. A disability may be present from birth or occur during a person’s lifetime. (Wikipedia)
Let me be pretty clear about this, if you are not disabled you cannot have a service dog. It doesn’t matter how well-behaved they are or how much you pay online, you can not have a service dog. Period. There are many illnesses that qualify as disabilities but just because you have anxiety or depression or diabetes or something else does not mean you are disabled and qualify for a service dog. I know many people with illnesses that can function in life just fine.
I got on a soap-box rant for a minute and had to take a step back. But now I am focused. This topic is just very important to me.
Things that make a service dog:
- Handler must have a disability.
- Being a self-diagnosed or a convenient disabled does not count. Why people think being disabled is convenient for the so-called “perks” is baffling to me.
- The disability can be either visible or invisible
- Dog must be task trained to mitigate said disability for that person.
- Let me say that again, TASK TRAINED to that SPECIFIC person.
- Dog must be well-behaved to the max. While dogs are still dogs, and they have off days, a service Dog should be on point 95% of the time.
- Most service dogs go through months or years of training before receiving the title of “Service Dog”.
- The animal must be a dog or can be a miniature pony in some states.
- That means no you can not have a service turkey or monkey or lizard or pig, contrary to what the media or scam sites may say.
- Although sometimes I call my husband a Service Parrott he is not actually a bird so I am not breaking any laws.
- Clarification: some people do not use service animals and instead use nurses or have family help them with their disabilities. I (sometimes others in the community) call them service people.
Things that do not make a service dog
- A fluffy cute dog you want to take places.
- This means whether it is trained or untrained it does not count.
- A dog that comforts you or makes you feel better as his only “task”
- According to the ADA Comfort does not qualify as a task and there for does not make a dog a service dog.
- Any form of Certification or identification off of the internet.
- Just no.
Just so people can understand I am going to tell you how Bella and I meet the requirements:
- I am legally disabled according to my doctor. I have severe depression, panic and anxiety disorder, Bipolar and debilitating migraines. The level of my illnesses qualifies me because it prevents me from performing normal every day life tasks.
- Bella is task trained to me.
- She alerts to anxiety and panic attacks
- She performs preventative tasks such as block, grounding and Deep pressure therapy (DPT)
- She performs responsive tasks like guiding to a safe place, or finding help.
- Those are just a few of her tasks
- Bella went through a 1.3 years of training before I got her then we continued to train up until she turned 2 and we still practice training on a regular basis to keep her at a working level.
- Yes she is a dog, although sometimes she thinks she’s a “hooman”
I realize this post got lengthy and soap-boxy but I am very passionate about this topic. If done right, service dogs are amazing medical tools that can change a person’s life. If done incorrectly, your fake service dog could change my life for the worst by interfering with my service dog. Fake SD’s cause access issues for handlers and can give service dogs a bad name. When “fluffy” walks in, pees on the floor, bites a store employee that tries to clean up and then the “handler” flashes an ID and says “you cant kick me out”, stores are more likely to challenge real handlers and try to keep them our of their stores. It’s a harsh reality that happens often.
So please, make sure you follow the rules if you are getting a service dog and Please for the love of all that is good, do not fake a service dog so you can take “fluffy” with you.