Stop Faking Service Dogs – By Wes Siler

Stop Faking Service Dogs

Loving your pet too much is putting people with real disabilities at risk

Here in famously pet-friendly Los Angeles, I encounter dogs that are blatantly not service animals on a daily basis. Recently, during a morning visit to my local café, I laughed when a woman whose tiny dog was thrashing around at the limits of its leash and barking fiercely at other customers loudly proclaimed that it was a service animal. “It’s my service dog,” she said to me, scowling. “You’re not allowed to ask me why I need it!”

Data backs my anecdote up. A study conducted at the University of California at Davis found that the number of “therapy dogs” or “emotional support animals” registered by animal control facilities in the state increased 1,000 percent between 2002 and 2012. In 2014, a supposed service dog caused a U.S. Airways flight to make an emergency landing after repeatedly defecating in the aisle. A Google News search for “fake service dog” returns more than 2.2 million results.

This has recently led state governments to try and curb the problem through law. In Massachusetts, a House bill seeks to apply a $500 fine to pet owners who even falsely imply that their animal may be a service dog. In California, the penalty is $1,000 and up to six months in jail. Twelve states now have laws criminalizing the misrepresentation of a pet as a service animal. That’s good, but with all the confusion surrounding what a service dog actually is, there’s less and less protection for their unique status.

A new bill introduced to the Senate this summer by Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin threatens to add to the confusion even more. If it becomes law, you’ll be able to take any animal on a plane simply by telling the airline that it’s an ESA. Alarmingly, the bill seems to include ESAs in its definition of service animals.

Look, I get the desire to bring your pet along with you everywhere you go. My dogs are as important to me as my friends and family. The first criteria my girlfriend and I apply to where we eat, drink, and travel is whether our dogs can enjoy it with us. But out of respect for the needs of disabled people, for the incredible work that real service dogs perform, and for the people managing and patronizing these businesses, we will not lie. We do not take our pets places where they’re not welcome. We never want to compromise the ability of a service dog to perform its essential duties.

As an animal lover, don’t you want the same thing?

What’s a Service Animal?

The Americans with Disabilities Act limits the definition of a service animal to one that is trained to perform “work or tasks” in the aid of a disabled person. So, while a dog that is trained to calm a person suffering an anxiety attack due to post-traumatic stress disorder is considered a service dog, a dog whose mere presence calms a person is not. The act states, “dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”

That same law makes no requirements or provisions for any registration, licensing, or documentation of service animals. It also prohibits businesses or individuals from asking a disabled person for proof that their dog is a service animal. In fact, the ADA permits only two questions to be asked of people with service animals: Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? What task is the dog trained to perform? That’s it. No inquiry can be made about the nature of the disability and no proof can be requested, nor are there any licenses or documents to prove a dog is a service animal.

Emotional support animals (let’s just use that as a catchall for any dog that provides comfort but does not perform a specific task) are specifically excluded by the ADA, and access for them is not provided by that law. Businesses and similar entities are left to define their own policies. Amtrak, for instance, does not consider ESAs to be service animals and does not permit them to ride in passenger areas on its trains.

Because ESAs provide benefit by their mere presence, there’s no burden of training for them like there is for a service dog. The presence of untrained, or poorly trained dogs in public places, and on crowded airplanes can lead to significant problems. In June, an ESA aboard an airplane attacked the human seated next to it, resulting in severe injury.

So where’s the confusion come from, and why are there so many pets on airplanes these days? The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) does recognize ESAs and mandates that they be allowed on planes. It also goes further to place a burden of proof on owners of both service animals and ESAs.

The Impact Pets Have on Service Dogs

“Another dog once spent an entire flight barking at my dog,” relates Randy Pierce, who’s been totally blind for the past 17 years. “My dog was not barking back, but the barking was changing her behavior. That makes it harder for her to do her job; she loses her focus. I’m 6’4″, so if she loses her focus, it means I’m going to hit my head on an exit sign or a doorway or, if we’re on a street, maybe even step out into traffic.”

I also spoke with my friend Kent Kunitsugu, whose 12-year-old son, Hayden, suffers from epileptic seizures. Their dog, Lola, is trained to smell the sweat associated with an oncoming seizure, alert Hayden and his parents, and then lay across him during a seizure to comfort and protect him. “We often have to ask people to get their pets away from ours, because it’s a distraction, and the dog needs to pay full attention to my son,” explains Kunitsugu. “People think we’re being assholes, but we can’t afford a distraction.”

Pierce’s dog, Autumn, completely ignores other dogs, doesn’t beg for food, sits quietly for the duration of long flights, and generally minimizes her impact. That’s the result of lots of money—service dogs cost upwards of $20,000—and thousands of hours of training. Pierce, for example, has developed a routine with Autumn that involves the dog communicating when she needs to go to the bathroom, and then doing so in a specific orientation to Pierce that enables him to easily find it and collect it in a baggie. A true service dog is essential to its human partner’s well being, as well as a huge financial investment that other untrained dogs in public places put at risk.

The increasing presence of ESAs on flights, and in businesses has also combined with confusion around the law to create a backlash that’s impacting true service dogs, in addition to pets.

“On that flight, I overheard the flight attendant remark to her colleague that she wished they wouldn’t allow service dogs,” describes Pierce. His disability is obvious, but that’s not always the case for people who need service dogs, and those with disabilities already find going out in public difficult and intimidating. Fake service dogs are giving real ones a bad reputation.

Quantifying Fake

You can order service dog vests, tags, harnesses and other paraphernalia on Amazon and countless other websites. Dozens of websites and services claim to offer registry, certification, licenses, or other documentation for service dogs—all scams, as the ADA neither defines or requires any such proof.

To take your emotional support animal on an airplane, all you need is a letter from a licensed mental health professional that’s on letterhead, signed, and less than a year old. You can buy those online for a few bucks: news investigations have found psychologists offering to sell them to otherwise undiagnosed clients. Heck, most of us could probably counterfeit one using Photoshop.

“In order to be a service dog, that dog has to be trained to perform a task, and there has to be a recognized disability,” explains Pierce. “I’ve met a lot of people who tell me this is their emotional support animal, but what they’ve just told me is they don’t understand the law.”

Pierce is frustrated that the law is so vague, often misunderstood, and simply used as an excuse to bring pets somewhere they don’t belong. Because you can only ask if a person with a service dog has a disability and what tasks the dog is trained to perform, most businesses and other services simply don’t question service dogs at all. And most people with emotional support animals don’t realize that their pets aren’t actually guaranteed equal access by the ADA, or any other law, outside of air travel.

Really the only mechanism available to legitimate service dog owners is to sue a business that denies them access, which just worsens the problem. “The owners of most places are intimidated,” says Pierce. “They don’t want a lawsuit on their hands for being wrong, and they don’t know what their rights are, so they don’t ask questions.”

Animal Lovers Must Unite

We find ourselves in a society that requires you to present a diagnosis of mental illness (or soon, just a verbal claim of such) if you want to safely fly with your dog. The system is broken.

In 2014, 25,000 emotional support animals boarded Jet Blue flights alone. Why isn’t there an airline that offers safe transport for pets? Or specific pet-friendly flights on certain popular routes?

And why aren’t there more dog-friendly restaurants, bars, music venues, and other businesses? There are nearly 90 million pet dogs in this country. That’s a huge market, but also a huge problem when us owners act inappropriately. As animal lovers, creating and supporting dog-friendly businesses should be our priority. Acting selfishly to the detriment of others will not create a more dog-friendly future. We want to be able to take our dogs to more places, more often, but we have to make sure doing so is appropriate and doesn’t infringe on the rights and well-being of people who need real service dogs.

The American Kennel Club offers a Canine Good Citizen certification after a formal process of testing and training good behavior. If you want to bring your dog into a café, why aren’t you being asked to produce evidence of that, rather than falsely stating that the business owner has to permit your emotional support animal?

“Instead of looking at ourselves as service dog users and faux service dog users, I like to think of all of us as dog lovers,” says Pierce. “When you look at it from that perspective, they’re not mutually exclusive. How do we make sure all our animals are able to succeed?”

Link to the original article:

What I Want You to Know About Being a Service Dog Handler – By Liz Bernstein

They see his fur first, then they see his face.

The awkward smiles start.  The “ooos” and “aws” follow.

Then they begin to speak to him in a higher-pitched voice. Parents point him out to their uninterested children, saying, “Look at the doggie!” As if they had never seen a dog before.

Some even try to pet him without asking.

Then you have the individuals who scream (literally) when they see him.

None of them really notice the individual on the other end of the leash.

I hold my hand up and say, “Please don’t. He’s working.” They suddenly notice me and give me a look of shock, disdain or repulsion. Some even become combative because I don’t want them speaking to or petting my service dog.

Liz's service dog MacLiz’s service dog Mac

This is a normal day in the life of a service dog handler. People will randomly come to you and try to interact with your dog. They unknowingly or don’t care that by distracting the dog, they are putting the handler in immediate danger. If you see a service dog team in a public place, they are most likely there for the same reason as you. Service dog handlers do not allot the extra time that is needed to allow everyone to say hello to their dog. Many of us just want to get what we need done and go on with our day.

Service dogs are legally medical equipment under federal and state laws. A service dog goes through 1.5 to 2.5 years of intense and specific training in order to mitigate their handler’s disability. You must be disabled in order to utilize a service dog. In many states, they fall under the white cane law. While they are an optional piece of medical equipment, they are helpful in some cases. Emotional support animals and therapy dogs are not service dogs and are not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. And no matter how much you pay for an ID or vest on a website, it does not make your animal a service animal!

Service dogs are medical equipment when they are working. They need to pay attention to their handler and be able to perform the tasks they have been trained to. Tasks are based on the handler’s needs, not wants. Legitimate tasks include opening and closing doors/cabinets, retrieving dropped or named items, guide work, pulling a wheelchair, blood glucose changes detection, deep pressure therapy, etc. “Just being there,” “cuddles/comfort” and tethering a child to a dog are not tasks. Service dogs must be proficient in advanced obedience, public access training and task training. These dogs cost thousands of dollars to train and maintain. They can range from $10,000 to $50,000 to train. Even owner training is expensive. I have about $25,000 in my current service dog and $9,000 in my service dog in training.

Liz's service dog in training, LincLiz’s service dog in training, Linc

These dogs are not pets under the law. They do get to enjoy life and have time off. Many handlers participate in extracurricular activities such as obedience competitions, agility (there are many videos of handlers in wheelchairs participating in this sport), rally-o, etc. Service dogs must be in tip-top shape when working. They must be clean and healthy. In my experience, it is frowned upon in the service dog community to work a dog with a disability of their own. Service dogs rely heavily on their senses (sight, hearing, smell and at times touch) in order to work and assist their handlers appropriately. So, when you distract a service dog, they are no longer able to perform the tasks they need to.

So next time you see a service dog team, please do not make any sounds toward the dog and handler and do not try to pet a working dog. It is rude and very dangerous for the handler if you do. You should also never touch an animal you don’t personally know or don’t have permission to touch. We are not a walking petting zoo. Please respect us as a team and allow us to go on with our day.

For more information about service animals:

Disclaimer from the author: The breed shown in this article is not normally trained for service dog work due to their natural instincts. The author of the article has over 10 years of canine training experience and understands canine body language and behavior. Choose the dog breed based on your disability(ies) and your needs, not on the look of the dog. This article does not back any trainers or organizations; all information provided is to educate about service dogs.

Follow this journey on Liz’s blog.

How can you tell the fakes from the real working dogs?


Being involved in a service dog organization has taught me the dangers of people lying about their pet and calling it a service dog. Here’s a little 101 for you.

How can you tell the fakes from the real working dogs?

1. If the dog is confined or has restricted body movement due to being in a stroller or shopping cart, it is unable to physically preform tasks in order to aid their disabled handler.

2. If the dog exhibits poor behavior and the handler isn’t trying to correct it or isn’t removing the dog.

3. If the dog is ENTIRELY focused on interacting with its environment rather than the handler, it cannot be focused on assisting the person with their disability.

> Certification, ID tags and vests don’t make a service dog. A dog is considered a service dog when it is trained to physically do something (performs a task or work) in relation to the handlers disability. The dog must be doing something for you, that you cannot do for yourself.

> The law does NOT recognize ’emotional support’ or ‘comforting’ to be trained tasks.

> > There is no legitimate legal certification for service dogs or emotional support animals.

Disabled face discrimination as fake service dogs on the rise

Easy to purchase knock-off vests causing problems for disabled


Author: Paul Giorgio, Special Projects Producer

Oct. 19, 2014: It takes months of training and a major financial investment for a dog to become a certified service animal. But that’s not stopping able-bodied people from claiming their ordinary pets are trained service dogs.

via Disabled face discrimination as fake service dogs on the rise.


HOUSTON – It takes months of training and a major financial investment for a dog to become a certified service animal. But that’s not stopping able-bodied people from claiming their ordinary pets are trained service dogs.It’s the latest trend in pet accessories, and it’s based on deception. A growing number of dog owners are dressing their pets up in fake service vests to gain access to public spaces.Whether out of convenience or companionship, critics say it’s cutting into the rights of the disabled.

The vests are easily available online. One could be purchased along with 50 ID cards for $19.95. No proof of service dog training was required to make the purchase.

Kristie Baker knows the practice well. Baker, a polio survivor, has been using service dogs for over 20 years. She said the last five years or so there’s been a shift in how she’s treated by businesses.

Baker finds herself answering more questions from suspicious managers.

“We’ve been questioned probably ten times more since people have been able to get ‘I’m a working dog’ harnesses online,” said Baker. “All of a sudden it’s like, ‘What are you bringing that dog in for? Is it there to help you?'”

Baker worries that the rights of all disabled people are being eroded by uneducated and careless pet owners.

“The pet dogs misbehave, they’ll bark, they’ll growl at people or they’ll pee inside a building. Merchants are becoming a little bit cautious,” Baker said.

Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit organization that provides trained assistance dogs for the disabled, has drafted a petition asking the Justice Department for action.

The group hopes to have 50,000 signatures by March. At which time they hope to take the issue to local and national legislators.

Web Extra: View the petition

CCI instructor Jen Hanes trains service dogs. She said service dogs spend months at a facility learning how to stay calm and focused in crowded environments.

Hanes said without proper training pets can be nervous, anxious and defensive in crowded situations — a potentially dangerous combination for both the animal and patrons.

“They haven’t had any training out in public,” Hanes said. “So they go out, they’re exposed to another dog or exposed to different sounds, distractions in the environment and it causes inappropriate behavior. The dog is acting out. It could definitely be a threat to a disabled handler, someone who may not have the same amount of strength or reaction speed than an able bodied handler has.”

Hanes said a common excuse owners use is that the pet dog is there for emotional support. A distinction not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Service dogs must be able to perform a task.

“If they say, ‘Oh well, the dog’s presence helps me,’ or, ‘I like having the dog near me.’ You want to make sure that it’s actually doing a task,” said Hanes.

Hanes said she’s seen first hand how the dogs she trains change lives. She’s worried that a few bad actors may take away some of her students’ new found independence.

“For them to come along with a legitimate service dog and be denied access because of the poor behavior the person before them or the dog before them is really unfortunate,” said Hanes. “Ultimately it doesn’t effect just you, it affects many other people.”

Advocates stop short of asking for a nationwide ID card or other government permit. They say a significant number of people train their own service dogs and added documentation could be an added burden.

The Ripple Effect

Hi everyone!

Our primary purpose is to help those in need by providing them with service dogs and empowering them to live a life of fulfillment and become an integral part of society.  What inevitably happens though is a ripple effect.

Take for example Jason Owens.  Jason was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis Type II in 1996.   It is a genetic disorder that causes hundreds of tumors to grow throughout the body’s Central Nervous System.   Unfortunately, for now, there is no cure available and treatment is done on individual tumors via radiation or removal.

You can imagine that this is not an enjoyable process.  Jason has had approximately a dozen surgeries since 1996.   The most serious surgery was in 2007 when he had a golf ball size brain tumor removed.

After a year of physical therapy, he was left with weakness in his legs, loss of balance, and deaf.    Unable to perform his duties at work, he lost his job and went on long term disability.

He currently has tumors on his spine that effect his strength and dexterity in his hands.   His long term prognoses is several more surgeries ahead as the disease progresses.

One of the most unfortunately effects of Jason’s situation is that as a husband and father of two, he cannot enjoy the full mobility that others take for granted.  Fortunately, the love and support of his family has kept him strong and forward looking.  With the help of a service dog though, his life would be enriched even more.

A service dog will not only help Jason, he or she will also help Jason’s family.  A service dog will help empower Jason, helping him in many ways and enabling him to be less dependent on his family.  His family then would also be able to help Jason in other ways and be able to spend more time enjoying the life they have together.  This change will also then create a ripple effect with all those they see and know.

Here’s Jason with his family during the holidays.

Jason Owens and his family

Sometimes we are so focused on one individual that we often forget the kind of value a service dog can have on that individual’s family and friends.

Help us raise the money we need to get Jason a service dog.

Simply click on the donate button on the right or click right here to make a donation today.

We appreciate your support and we know Jason and his family does too.


Raising Hope With Your Help!

Alex and Hope are running two half Marathons this year to raise funds to train two service puppies to help two humans that really need them… and we need YOUR help!

There are two ways you can help!

Make A Donation:

We are always looking for donations to help Hope is Mine spread the word and awareness about service dogs and to help in getting dogs trained to help others in need.  You can simply click on the donate button on the right or go to our Fundraising page at

Run With Hope:

You can run in one of both of the marathons, have your friends and family sponsor you and make a huge difference to this great cause.

Here are the details of the two Half-Marathons.  Support the cause and help us raise the funds we need to help others in need.

The Disneyland® Half marathon on September 2nd 2012 in California.

The Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon on November 9th in Orlando.

Those who finish both are eligible for a third medal called the Coast to Coast Challenge so Hope is “hoping” to add three medals to her proud of me wall this year!  With your help, there’s no doubt she’ll be able to do it!

If you are interested in running either or both of the half marathons above, you need to do the following;

  1. Register on the Disney site for the marathon(s) you are interested in participating in. When you register make sure you say that you are on team “Hope is Mine”
  2. Register for free at  (not active yet), fill out your profile and start to tell everyone that you are running and ask for their support.
  3. Join our Face Book page and let us know how your training and fundraising is going. Remember we are all in this together so this will be a great source of support for you!
  4. Make sure to book your travel and accommodations early. We will probably do something as a group before and after the race so watch for details (coming soon!).
  5. If you have any talents or expertise you can donate to help make this an even greater success let us know! This is going to be a rocking event that we “Hope” to do every year, so help us make this first one a resounding success!

Be on the lookout for more information about these events.  In the mean time, please help us spread the word and raise some money.  Hope springs eternal with all of your support!


Time To Celebrate! It’s Her Birthday!!!

That’s right folks.  October 10, 2011 is Hope’s Birthday!

Every year (day really) that goes by is a constant reminder of the hope that Hope brought into Alex’s life – and the hope that both of them – Alex and Hope can bring to the lives of others.  That’s a lot of Hope!

So if you haven’t joined our Facebook page yet (, then hop on over and wish Hope a happy birthday!

Celebrate Hope’s birthday with Hope Is Mine by making hope yours too!


Make It Yours