Voices of the Community: Bogus Service Dogs – The Scam Co-Opting the Rights of the Disabled

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This is a post written by Casey Miller in Jan 2016 on Facebook.  This issue of Fake Service Dogs prompted him to write more so that people understand what a real service dog means to him and the dedication, funding, and support that goes into making these animals work for people who, like Casey, depend on them for greater independence:

So many business owners and employees have no idea how to tell the difference between a legitimate service animal and a fake one that someone just put a vest on and printed out a certificate for. People that do that are the reason that I have problems when I go into stores or why so many businesses hate that they have to let me in with a dog. They have had many people come in with what they claimed to be service animals disrupting business and slapping a HORRIBLE reputation on the real service animals out there. It does more negative than anyone without a service animal can understand. Please keep this in mind. Emotional Support Animals (ESA) or “comfort” animals are NOT certified to go everywhere with someone and an online survey to “certify” your dog is not legit. It’s only a scam for someone to get $50 from you so you can print out a fake certificate. A doctor’s written letter of medical necessity, years of training, evaluations and MANY other things have to be in play in order to even start the process of receiving a real, legal and certified service animal. PLEASE SHARE THIS. http://www.wpbf.com/news/people-with-fake-service-animals-could-face-jail-time/30250024

My name is Casey, and I am a T2-T3 paraplegic. I’ve been paralyzed since March 2, 2009, and I’ve had my service dog, Slate, for about a year and a half now. I love having a service dog, and the experiences I’ve had with him have almost always been positive. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always been easy. It’s a lot of work, but it isn’t for nothing.

Young man with long shaggy blond hair, in black t shirt and jeans with a smile as large black Labrador dog jumps up top his lap as he is sitting in wheelchair

Casey meets Slate, his new service dog for the first time.

First, my life was much different before Slate. I had the average (if you could call it that) life of a teenager in a wheelchair. I was pretty independent, but not completely. I forced myself to get out and be around other people, but I was never crazy confident in myself. The people around me were very willingly helpful, but I didn’t like feeling like I’d be unable to fend for myself if they weren’t there. I’ve learned that being in a wheelchair means that you’ll have no choice but to rely on others sometimes, but I try to make that as minimal as possible for myself, and you’ll learn how Slate helps me with that.

My family and I took our time searching for the best foundation to go to about receiving a service dog. We found a few different foundations, but we ultimately decided on Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence (ADAI), located in Toledo, Ohio. We filled out the application and sent it in.

To date, this is the most detailed application I have ever filled out, and for good reason. They need to know that the dog will have a good place to go to be able to safely play, and also be able to do his/her “business”. They also need to know that you will be willing and able to take care of the dog, whether it’s a simple brushing every day, giving a bath every once in a while, or being able to pay for an emergency surgery that the dog may need in the future. The foundation and other people involved put an incredible amount of time and money into these dogs, so they need to be promised that you will do everything in your power to keep this dog up to par in training, health, and hygiene.

Once they complete their review, and if they accept your application, they will contact you for a face to face evaluation at your home. They check and make sure that your living space is safe and logical for a service animal. After that evaluation, they go over everything they have so far and decide if you would be truly able to handle the responsibility of a service dog.

If they decide on a yes, they contact you again to schedule a visit to the training facility. This is so they can put you in a room with a currently trained and certified service dog. The purpose of this is to see how you handle an animal, and if you and the dog are compatible. They ask you to give it a couple of commands, brush the dog, give it treats, and simply pet it. If all goes well, they start to pick out a service dog that best suits your needs and continue to train it even more.

Casey a young man in a wheelchair with his service dog, a black Labrador, in front of a group of small children demonstrating how to train the dog

Casey with Slate his service Dog, teaching elementary school children on training

From there, they keep in contact with you and set up a time where you will spend two weeks in Toledo learning how to train the dog for your specific needs, take care of the dog, and everything else you need to know so you can give the dog a good and healthy life.

Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence (ADAI) specifically gives the recipient an eighteen-month probationary period where if you show them any signs of not planning on using the dog for what it has been trained for, or if you show them that the dog’s health isn’t a major priority, they can take the dog back to be placed with someone else. A lot of people are surprised by that, but it’s much more understandable when you take into consideration the $15,000 they spent on one and a half to two years of training and care taking. Plus, anytime I’m out in public with Slate, I am not only representing myself, but the foundation too, and a good reputation is important when it comes to service animals.

Now I can mention a growing problem that I and everyone else with legitimate service animals deals with.

A lot of people, especially lately, have been going to these websites that claim that if you pay to take an online quiz and pass it, they will give you an “official” certification for a service animal so that every business owner is required to allow your untrained pet into their business. The problem with this, and every other “instant certificate” type claim, is that they are purely phony scams. There is no such thing as a legitimate instant certification for a service animal. A written letter of medical necessity from your doctor is the first thing you need to even start the process of receiving a service animal.

To some people, this may not seem like a big deal. What’s the problem with being allowed to bring one of your best friends with you everywhere? Unfortunately, it’s a huge problem. Every legitimate service animal has been evaluated, and will continue to be evaluated to make sure that it is suitable to be out in public where you may experience large crowds, loud noises, and a huge list of distractions. A lot of average pets can be easily scared by many of those things, which can also mean aggression and violent behavior. That is not safe at all for the public, and especially not safe for service animals.

Public access is one of the most important things for a service dog. A public access certificate means that ADAI had agreed that Slate, or any other service dog they have trained, is safe and suitable to be around large crowds, loud noises and anything else you would normally come across in public. Every year to two years that certification expires. When that happens, all I have to do is call Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence and set up a time for them to meet me at a store near me and do a couple of tests. The first thing we do is simply go up and down a couple of aisles to show that he is still walking next to me without pulling or getting too close to me. The second test consists of asking my dog to sit and stay after which I drop his leash and leave his site. This tests his ability to stay by me and fight the urge to run elsewhere if I accidentally drop his leash. After that, we ask a random person to hold his leash while I again go out of site. He needs to show me that he would not panic or become aggressive towards someone he may not be completely comfortable with. The fourth test is to drop a pile of treats in a store aisle, take him past it and use the “leave it” command. If he refrains from trying to eat them, this shows me that I could keep him under control if food or anything else potentially harmful to him is spilled in the aisle. The last test is to challenge his ability to stay calm if an abrupt and/or sharp noise were to happen. The trainer will walk behind me and drop a clipboard flat on the ground. They observe how the service dog handles it. If the dog handles all of this well enough to make the trainer feel confident in both the dog and the handler, you will receive the recertification. This is repeated every year for awhile then every two years for the rest of the time that the dog remains a working animal.

Fun CLose up photo of black dog with mouth wide open and Casey making same expression

Funny Selfie with Casey and Slate, his Service Dog

Just a month ago I was out at a store where I encountered what the owners claimed to be a service animal. This so-called service animal had to be pulled all the way across the department by a large man, all while what I assume was his wife had to put a shopping cart in between their dog and mine. My dog, Slate, did nothing more than sniff towards this dog to trigger this. That dog could have easily gotten to Slate and attacked him. In situations like that, the victim service dog may never want to go back out in public again, which means that $15,000 and two years of training just went down the drain in a matter of seconds, all because someone wanted to bring their untrained pet out in public with them.

With that said, it isn’t always violent behavior that we’re worried about. If someone brings their smelly and/or misbehaving pet into a store, claiming that it is a trained and working service animal, that horrible reputation is spread to every legitimate service animal out there. This means that business owners, employees, and customers all see that and learn that that is what they should expect from a working animal.

Now businesses owners may be required to allow service animals in and around their businesses, but not at all costs. If I were to take Slate to a business while he smelled bad, or if he were misbehaving in the store and I wasn’t doing anything to stop him, anyone working at that business could ask me to leave with my dog because I’m making the store an unwelcoming and/or unsafe environment for other customers. A lot of people do not know that, so they end up allowing these untrained animals into their stores to potentially scare customers away from ever coming back.

I hope that with this information, you can be confidently educated and know that these fake certifications can hurt more than most people understand. People like me and many others rely on their service animals to give them the most independent life possible, so a safe environment for the animals is important.

If you, or anyone you know may be interested in starting the road to getting a true service dog, please feel free to check out the Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence website at:

http://www.abilitycenter.org/we-can-help/programs/assistance-dogs/our-dogs/need-a-dog/

Or, by calling: (866) 885-5733 and asking for Jenny Barlos, or anyone that is working with the service dogs.

Editor’s Note: While Casey choose to go to an Organization that specialized in training and providing Service Dogs, people can train their own service dog or do so with the help of a private trainer. Not every service dog comes from a program. Also, a letter of necessity from a doctor may not be required in all States, or unless you’re going through such a program and only if that program requires it.

Please read more about the Service Animal Laws from the US Dept. of Justice:

COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT SERVICE ANIMALS IN PLACES OF BUSINESS

 

Deborah Davis

Deborah is a Speaker, Disability Inclusion Consultant, Entrepreneur, Writer and Business Owner of Wheelchair Lifestyle Enterprise Push Living Inc.

She was a Former Dancer, Accident Survivor (C 6-7 Spinal Cord Injury resulting in incomplete Quadriplegia 1985), College grad (BBA Finance 1991 U of Miami), with a background in Sales and Marketing and Non Profit Development and Management.

She is now embarked on new path creating a market for Disability Inclusive Stock Images with the creation of PUSHlivingPhotos.com and publishing an online enterprise: PushLiving.com. The mission is to create Inclusion for people with disabilities through stock images for advertising, marketing and editorial uses, providing accessible properties for travel, swap or purchase, publishing an online magazine for improved health and well-being, providing information and opportunities for Accessible Travel, and operating an online store with products that improve lives.

She is most passionate about building a network of people with disabilities who are empowering, supporting and creating a more inclusive world. Personally, she is a mother of two beautiful, wise and exceptionally bright young women, and residing in South Florida.

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