Service Dog Fraud: A Service Dog is More Than Just a Vest

Wallis and Mork Service Dog

How Protecting Service Dog Rights Protects Disability Rights

 

September is National Service Dog Month – a time to celebrate the amazing dogs that have been expertly trained to assist a person with a disability in specific tasks to increase independence. It’s also a good time to discuss what makes service dogs so special, and why the laws and questions around service dog access are so important to follow.

Service dogs take approximately two years to train before they are matched with a person with a disability. Much of their time as puppies is spent not just on learning basic obedience, but also experiencing crucial socialization in the wide world that a working service dog will encounter. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is defined as a dog “that has been individually trained to do work or tasks for an individual with a disability.” This work or task must directly mitigate the effects of the handler’s disability. An animal that solely provides comfort is not a service animal under the ADA.

At Canine Companions for Independence®, each highly skilled service dog is trained in more than 40 commands to enhance independence, including pulling a manual wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a handler who is deaf to a fire alarm, or rousing a veteran who has post-traumatic stress disorder from a flashback nightmare. But there is a lot of confusion around “real” service dogs and the laws and guidelines under the ADA, making it more difficult for legitimate service dog teams to lead more independent lives.

Under the ADA, there are two questions a business can ask about a dog in their establishment:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required for a disability?
  2. What work or task is the dog trained to perform?

While a business can’t ask about a person’s disability or even to see the task the dog is trained to perform, there are important ways to help keep legitimate service dogs and their partners safe and able to access public places. “Many people don’t realize that the ADA has behavioral guidelines,” says Wallis Brozman, who leads advocacy for Canine Companions®. “The laws are clear that a service dog must be in control at all times and behave in a safe manner. Dogs that are aggressive or repeatedly barking, lunging, eating off the floor, or interfering with other customers can be legally removed from an establishment.”

Wallis knows firsthand the devastating impact that aggressive and out of control dogs can have on legitimate service dogs. A three-time Canine Companions service dog graduate, Wallis was placed with her second service dog, Mork, in April 2016. “Mork came into my life exactly when I needed him most,” says Wallis. “I had retired my first service dog and was struggling to feel safe enough to be in public alone. Mork gave me my life again, and so much more.”

Mork faithfully worked with Wallis, who taught him 65 commands in American Sign Language and additional commands to help Wallis be independent. Unfortunately, Mork was on the receiving end of dog aggression nearly 10 times in less than three years.

Mork continued to struggle with aggressive dogs and an increased sense of discomfort in public places, scanning for dogs in his environment. “After all of his life saving and life changing work, I knew I had to make the right decision for Mork. He retired prior to his fifth birthday and returned to his puppy raiser as a beloved pet. I lost my best friend and my independence.”

Wallis was matched with Service Dog Renata earlier this year, and continues to advocate and educate businesses and organizations on the behavioral standards for a true service dog. In honor of National Service Dog Month, BraunAbility is joining Canine Companions to stand against service dog fraud and keep service dog users and their four-legged lifesavers safe and independent. Learn more about how you can help, or take a pledge against service dog fraud by visiting cci.org/stopfraud.

LIVE CHAT WITH AN AGENT