Category Archives: In The News

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.

It’s Official

On July 23, 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder signed final regulations revising the Department’s ADA regulations, including a revised definition of “service animal.” This final rule was published in the Federal Register September 15, 2010, and the effective date is six months after that publication (March 15, 2011).

Read more about the changes here:

Alex found Hope, so can YOU!

There are individuals who let setbacks and pitfalls overwhelm their lives, there are those who overcome them, and then there’s Alex Dumas.

In 2003, Dumas was diagnosed with a debilitating terminal illness. Doctors gave her the proverbial “You only have so much time to live” speech. She would lose a considerable amount of weight, lose half a lung, have to wear gloves, protective dark glasses, and a mask for health reasons, and even have a stint in hospice. (Dumas requested that we withhold the specific name of her condition.) In 2006, Dumas was told she wouldn’t make it past June. After enduring a total of 28 surgeries, the possibility of never walking or seeing again-let alone death-was very real.

Alex proved everyone wrong.

She would harness her mental fortitude through the next few years. “I just don’t think you have a choice,” says Dumas. “I think when you lose everything that you have in your life, like your health, you have to depend only on yourself. You make yourself become a stronger person.”

The words “can’t” and “never” don’t apply to this talkative, spunky athlete. But a little help from a furry friend didn’t hurt.

Last year, after a two-month stay at the Mayo Clinic, Dumas’ confidence in her health was looking for a jolt. That’s when a Golden Labrador Retriever, aptly named Hope, was assigned to her.

Dumas never thought of herself as disabled. Everybody for the last three years suggested she get a seeing eye dog to help with her hearing and vision impairments on her left side. “I thought, ‘What am I going to get a dog for? How can they limit me like that?'” But she would eventually concede in August of 2006.

“The doctors didn’t give me any hope. That’s what’s kind of funny. I got hope when I got Hope,” she says. “Within a couple of months, I could start running again, because I wasn’t by myself. Hope can hear sounds that I can’t hear. She will put her body in front to stop me from going over something or from hurting myself. I know where she’s at, and I know if there’s a problem with her without seeing her. I can know if there’s a car behind me without seeing or hearing it.”

Soon, Dumas was allowed back on the treadmill and her condition improved. “I started regaining who I was again,” she adds. “I got Hope and something inside my head clicked subconsciously. I realized that I had to take care of Hope because she depended on me to live.”

Now the pair will make history when, for the first time ever, someone will run a marathon with a service dog. The LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon will mark the northern Indiana resident’s return to her hometown of Chicago. They will enter in the regular field, not the handicapped or disabled divisions.

Alex And Hope

Back in March, Dumas recalls a conversation with her aunt when running a marathon was brought up. “I told her I was going to run the marathon and she told me I was crazy.” Alex’s aunt told her that it required too much training. Her aunt and others underestimated Dumas’ can-do, no-nonsense attitude. Says Dumas, “I think it’s sad that people let themselves be limited by everybody else-that they’ve never taken a stand in what they believe in.”

Their entry into the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon has never been about the publicity; Dumas realized only after her registration that she will be a groundbreaker when she runs the marathon with Hope. “I’m not doing the marathon for history, as ‘Oh, look at this.’ I’m doing it so other people who think they can’t do something can do it.”

It’s Dumas’ unflappable attitude, through a life-altering experience, and the significance of running with a dog named Hope, that will spur others-even non-runners-to find their own courage in adverse times. “I was given life there in Chicago, and I think it’s only fitting that I “run for life” with Hope there.

Marathons are a microcosm of life, demonstrating the will to accomplish what was once thought impossible. This is especially true for Dumas. “It was a kind of a thing that I wanted to know if I could do it … I looked healthier when I ran than when I didn’t run-and it’s good for Hope.”

Despite some limitations, Dumas and Hope have a few unorthodox tricks up their sleeves in between normal preparations. Dumas runs with a weight vest. She also fits in the traditional dog walks Hope requires, for stamina.

As for restrictions, she remains a realist. “I don’t set goals, like I have to run in 2:46, or something.” She’s also concerned for Hope: “I also have her to think about. Realistically, if I put extra pressure on myself, she’s going to feel it. There’s also physical therapy, and I knock ribs out in public all the time. My whole abdomen has been rebuilt so many times.”

Dumas is filled out well now and looks as if she never had health issues. Dumas’ family and friends have seen the health and personal changes she has had to navigate. Watching her battle with adversity has been hard, but also has helped them realize how much character Alex has.

“I couldn’t go through what she went through and still have as much confidence, or want to live as much as she does,” says Tom Wilson, her grandfather. “She keeps pluggin’ along. I’ve seen her down and out, and she just keeps coming back.”

Dumas feels hope has been somewhat forgotten in our world today. “People need to find it so they can believe in themselves again and have faith,” Dumas says, as she strokes Hope’s yellow coat. “When they can do that, they will get their miracle. The miracle is themselves.”

“I want everyone to know that anything is possible. You can do whatever you want-it’s just how bad you want it. Never think that you have to live with somebody else’s expectations. You don’t. What you do with your life is up to you, and you’re the only one who can limit it.”

Anthony Brass is an intern with Chicago Athletemagazine and a freelance writer in the Chicago area. Reach him at

Helping Those In Need


The Hope Is Mine Foundation was founded on the idea of helping those in need. We are advocates for those who need our help as even a little help goes a long way. Through education and fundraising, we promote awareness of Service Dogs and the quality of life they provide their partners. We assist in raising funds for service dog placement and provide training and strategies to educate corporations, small businesses, and our communities nationwide. We seek to empower individuals to live a life of greatness regardless of any physical limitations.


Our Mission is to train and educate corporations, small businesses, and communities nationwide on the inspiration, motivation, and life changing impact service dogs have upon the physically disabled. We intend to place service dogs for those in need throughout the country. We will also provide hope and strength to enrich the lives of individuals with life-threatening medical conditions and their families by granting them their life’s true wish.

Our Vision is to provide hope and eliminate personal limitations for individuals who are physically disabled and enable them to become an integral part of society and inspire others to greatness themselves. There should be no limitation on greatness even if there are physical limitations on life.

“I want everyone to know that anything is possible. You can do whatever you want-it’s just how bad you want it. Never think that you have to live with somebody else’s expectations. You don’t. What you do with your life is up to you, and you’re the only one who can limit it.”

— Alex Dumas, Hope Is Mine Foundation Co-founder

Make It Yours