“Me And My Fake Service Dog…..”

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Is there anyone who doesn't suffer from some kind of stress or anxiety? But that doesn’t mean we should feel entitled about taking our dog, snake, or llama to places where only service animals should go.

Is there anyone alive who doesn’t suffer from some kind of stress or anxiety? But that doesn’t mean we should feel entitled about taking our dog, snake, or llama to places where only service animals should go.

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

…..was the title of a recent (but hastily deleted) article by New York City dog trainer Anna Jane Grossman. With equal parts delusion, narcissism, and fakery, Ms. Grossman set about describing the deceptive tactics she uses to take her Yorkipoo Amos, who is certainly cute but is not a service dog, to places generally accessible only by service animals.

Grossman, whose food of life appears to be attention, suggests that her motivation lies in requests by her clients at the “School For The Dogs,” who asked how they could bring their dogs to visit in hospitals, or restaurants, and travel on planes. She asserts that this might be the beginning of a movement to “stop segregating dogs based on their owner’s disabilities, and instead look at the dog’s abilities.”

Ms. Grossman also acknowledged having a friend create a fake service dog ID, and she went on to use that fake ID when questioned by shop owners about Amos’ status as a service dog. In a dispute with a tax driver, Grossman was further emboldened by the fact that she was able to get the police to side with her.  (I hope she thinks long and hard about the fact that she called the police out on a frivolous complaint against an innocent person in order to perpetuate her falsity).

“It’s a good thing the cop knew that the Americans With Disabilities Act precluded him from asking what my disability was. That’s because I don’t have one.”

 

 

Boom! But the karma train pulled rather quickly into the station, and there was an astounding backlash against Grossman for her deception. In a move that was the opposite of shocking, she issued a stirring non-apology and quickly deleted the post from Medium.com. For a few days the Google cache remained available, and then it too was gone. However, an astute individual made a YouTube video of the post.

The US Department of Justice to crack down on the sale of fake service dog products.  If the fake service dog scam continues to escalate, real service dogs, and the privileges and respect they are entitled to, will be in jeopardy.

There needs to be a crack down on the sale of fake service dog products. If the fake service dog scam continues to escalate, real service dogs, and the privileges and respect they are entitled to, will be in jeopardy.

Grossman certainly isn’t the only unrepentant person to have created an online shit-storm by confessing to using a pretend service animal. Outrage followed the story of New Yorkers Brett David and Kate Vlasovskaya, who were featured in the New York Post. Both David and Vlasovskaya boasted about using fake ID cards and service vests to gain admittance into movie theaters, restaurants, nightclubs, Whole Foods, Starbucks, etc. They merely explained it away as something that’s “becoming more popular now.”

I know that some people reading this are wondering aloud now, what can be wrong with this “crime?” Where do we actually draw the line of pushing our dogs into no-access spaces? After all, most people doing this sort of thing just want to spend more time with their dogs, or they want to avoid having to check them as “baggage” on a plane (an issue I can definitely relate to, knowing that pets kept in the hold of a plane have gone long periods without water, gotten lost, arrived dead, or escaped on the runway). While the sentiment to allow our dogs in more public spaces is not unreasonable, the method Grossman and others have used is ethically challenged. I also believe that there’s something profoundly disturbing about professionals who counsel their clients to become practiced liars at the expense of others.

Fake service dogs set up the real ones for failure, because people then assume all dogs will act up.  When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

Fake service dogs set up the real ones for failure, because people then assume all dogs will act up. When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

An increasing number of fakers have embraced the bogus service dog movement, which essentially requires one to pretend to have a disability. People with no disabilities or serious psychiatric disorders are buying fake service or therapy dog tags and vests online. While all dogs provide emotional support to us in one way or another, the designation of emotional support dog is only applicable to animals who have been “prescribed” by a licensed mental health professional. If you have the money, it’s not difficult to obtain a letter from an online mental health professional stating that one needs their pet as an “emotional support animal,” even though the professional has never treated the “patient” personally. Airlines such as Air Canada have taken to discouraging such one-time diagnoses, by requiring the person with the ESA to present a letter dated within the last six months, from a mental health practitioner who is currently treating the patient, and who has diagnosed them with a condition present in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association) and restricting access to dogs only.

Not only is it bad form to use a fake assistance animal, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s a federal crime to take advantage of privileges reserved for those who genuinely need the assistance of such animals. In the United States, the ADA defines a person with a disability as “…a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability. The ADA also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on that person’s association with a person with a disability.”

Please don’t participate in service dog fakery.  There are too many ethical ramifications for this behaviour. Service dogs have no price tag.

Please don’t participate in service dog fakery. There are too many ethical ramifications for this behaviour. Service dogs have no price tag.

 

In Canada, the Human Rights Code of Ontario (where I live) defines a disability as “…any degree of physical disability, infirmity,malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical co-ordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device.”

The reality is that the entire service animal community suffers as this trend increases, because business owners, gatekeepers, and the general public are growing increasingly skeptical of assistance animals, and are likely to hold human/animal teams to a lower standard of behaviour if they simply act like any other pet. The act of misrepresenting a pet as a service animal is one of the primary factors that are responsible for the prevalence of access challenges to the disabled. Those with service dogs should never be put in the position of arguing with a gatekeeper in order to gain access to buildings and services.

Advocates of both pets and the disabled are divided as to how to police those who abuse service animal privileges, and some are calling for government to better regulate and enforce service animal rules around the country. Groups and individuals who train service or therapy animals do not want their efforts to be meaningless, nor do they need the general public to make assumptions that helper animals are poorly behaved. There seems to be a general consensus that certified animals should be required to be trained by an accredited facility. Or, at the very least, what is needed is a single-source visible identification for service/therapy animals, which is clear to business owners, transit staff, and landlords that the animal is actually certified (along with serious penalties for those who ignore the absolute rights of the disabled).

An emotional-support card merely means that one’s pet is registered in a database of animals whose owners have paid money to one of several organizations,  which in all probability aren't recognized anywhere.  If you want to turn your pet into a certified E.S.A., all you need is a therapist type who will vouch for your mental un-health. Don’t have one? Enter “emotional-support animal” into Google and take your pick among hundreds of willing professionals.

If you want to turn your pet into a certified E.S.A., all you need is a therapist type who will vouch for your mental un-health. Don’t have one? Enter “emotional-support animal” into Google and take your pick among hundreds of willing “professionals.”

Guide and service dogs are lifelines for their owners – in order to have a bona-fide service dog, one must be disabled within the definition of the law. Service dogs are not pets. They:

  • Are individually trained to perform work for a disabled person, and their skill relates directly to the nature of the individual’s disability
  • May alert people who are deaf, having a seizure, reminding people to take medications, calming people with PTSD or anxiety attacks, or other duties.
  • Receive many hours of socialization and temperament testing.
  • Are assessed for 18 to 24 months to see if they have the right temperament and abilities to be placed with a person in need.
  • Are typically breeds that are naturally well-mannered and even-tempered. Breeds classified as livestock guardians or fighting dogs can have aggression-related breed traits that can be problematic
  • Receive learning appropriate behaviour in a wide variety of public environments.
  • Are usually raised for the role of a service dog since puppyhood.

    Carry a baby down the aisle of an airplane and passengers look at you as if you were toting a machine gun. Imagine, then, what it’s like travelling with a pig.  A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. The individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.  But this poor pig was not ready for air travel,  since he/she pooped in the aisle and he and his owner were removed from the plane.   Animals get stressed in strange situations too.  If you can’t go on a plane without an emotional support animal,  think how the animal probably feels.

    A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the animal is not housebroken. The individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls. But this poor pig was not ready for air travel, since he/she pooped in the aisle and he and his owner were removed from the plane.
    Animals get stressed in strange situations too. If you can’t go on a plane without an emotional support animal, think how the animal probably feels.

The worst case scenario of an access challenge, despite its illegality, is one that is not resolved quickly and to the benefit of the disabled person. The Walt Disney Company felt compelled to change its disabled guest policy at theme parks in 2013 partly due to “abuse of the system.” The announcement came after reports surfaced that wealthy guests were paying wheelchair-riding tour guides top dollar so that the group could use the line-skipping privileges granted to the disabled at Disney theme parks. The Toronto Star recently reported on a shocking situation where two blind women were utterly humiliated and threatened with handcuffing by the police when they declined to muzzle their guide dogs on a Jet Airways flight out of Toronto.

We live in a generation of  scammers who flash fake I.D.s, able-bodied adults who use handicapped placards on their vehicles, and grocery customers who try to slip too many items into the express lane. Running fake service dog ID websites might also classify you as a grifter.  Certifications have become less meaningful too – even the Long Island Medium, who pretends to talk to dead people, has been a “certified” medium for over 10 years!  Proof that you can certify anything…..

While more understanding of accessibility legislation overall is needed,  we still must have integrity in the system and make an effort to ensure the right accesses for individuals with their certified dogs, while safeguarding the public with high training standards.

Canine Companions for Independence has introduced a pledge to protect the rights of people who legitimately need service dogs – please consider signing!

 

Dogs really are the best, but with that said, my dog could never pass as any sort of service animal, not even if I bribed her with a Costco-sized bag of Beggin’ Strips.  She’s mostly blind and afflicted with kidney disease, so she really needs her own guide dog.  But if I have about $35 for a card and another $55 for a photo ID (meaningless vest from $48) I can have a service dog.

Dogs really are the best, but with that said, my dog could never pass as any sort of service animal, not even if I bribed her with a Costco-sized bag of Beggin’ Strips. She’s mostly blind, completely toothless,  hard-of-smelling,  sleeps 20 hours a day, and is afflicted with kidney disease and therefore on meds, so she really needs her own guide dog. But if I have about $35 for a card and another $55 for a photo ID (meaningless vest from $48) I too can have a service dog.

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About heatherclemenceau

Hopefully as I've grown older I've also grown wiser, but one thing I've definitely become cognizant of is the difference between making a living and making a life. Frequently outraged by some of life's cruelties, and respect diversity. But.....I don't suffer fools gladly, and occasionally, this does get me into some trouble! I have the distinction of being the world's worst golfer - no wait, I do believe that there is a gypsy in Moldavia who is a worse golfer than I. Nor am I much of a dancer - you won't see a booty-shakin' flygirl routine from me! I'm also not the kind of cook who can whip up a five-course meal on a radiator either! And I've never figured out how to get an orchid to bloom a second time. I love to discuss literature, science, philosophy, and sci-fi , or even why Seinfeld is funny on so many levels. Words move me. I'm very soft-hearted about most things, especially animals, but I have a stoicism about me that is sometimes interpreted incorrectly. I do have a definite edge and an often "retro-adolescent" sense of humour at times. I'm a big advocate of distributed computing projects to advance science. Check out http://boinc.berkeley.edu/ if you want to find out more. I'm an eclectic (but not crazy) vegetarian, and as such, it's a personal practice of mine to seduce innocent meat-eaters into cruising the (salad) bars at every opportunity. You would be powerless to resist. I was recently surprised to find that a computer algorithm concluded that I write like Dan Brown, which is funny because I didn't think Dan Brown could actually write. Check out your own style - http://iwl.me/ Oh, and I love impractical shoes and funky hats.

12 responses »

  1. The pledge to not claim your dog falsely as a service dog is a nice feel-good activity that does exactly nothing to solve this problem. Until and unless there are better and more clear laws about service animals versus therapy versus comfort versus whatever-the-heck-else, this will continue unabated.

    • The laws are clear. I have an ESA and they are only allowed in home dwelling and on a planes with the proof from an RX from a doctor. I at first thought she was just like a service dog do to the internet scams having people believe false information. Education is key and research.

  2. I need to correct a few inaccuracies here. The majority of the SD community does NOT want dogs to have to be “certified” by an accredited facility. Owner training is legal for many reasons, the main being that not everybody has the money for a program dog, not everybody can wait years for a program dog, and that the majority of programs don’t train the dogs for everything the handler needs assistance with. I personally don’t like CCI. They’re awful to owner trainers, even when it’s their dogs causing issues, while the OT dogs are fine*. They don’t care if a massive number of disabled people aren’t able to have trained service dogs, because they can’t go through a program for some of the reasons I’ve listed above, and more. That petition sickens me. They want to make things about a thousand times harder for disabled handlers than we already have it. That’s unacceptable to me. Owner trained dogs are held to the same standards as program dogs, and sometimes higher.

    *My friend witnessed a CCI dog pull over their handler’s wheelchair as it attempted to get to my friend’s OT dog. My friend’s dog just stood there, and blocked my friend. The issue with many programs is that they try to put out as many dogs as possible, without taking the time to really concentrate on every single dog to make sure they’re top notch. They also graduate dogs that they’ve bred who aren’t necessarily right for service work, like the dog I just mentioned. Very few dogs are cut out for it (my program tested over 200 rescues, and only four passed, including my boy), even when they’ve been bred for generations to have the proper temperament and intelligence. Not all program dogs are created equal, same with all OT dogs.

    • I’m not sure why you have taken this entire blog post and zeroed –in so exclusively on CCI. They get a one line mention via their pledge, not advertising space. And although CCI may have a use for it at some point, it’s not actually a petition since there is no target.

      Who holds owner trained dogs to which standard? Specifically? It’s very much a problem that anyone can call themselves a trainer, and as you’ve pointed out, not all trainers, and certainly not all OT dogs are created equal, especially when thousands of individual trainers are using a thousand different training methods and standards. It would be fine if all the “trainers” trained dogs for agility, but these are dogs that must have the highest standard of training and behaviour. This does not even touch on the issue of animals with no training and people with no actual disabilities – another main issue addressed in the blog.

      The issue of standardization is also why we have accredited driver training programs, and while not everyone is required to take any course with the numerous accredited trainers in order to pass their driving test, there IS a standardized test that one must pass at the end of it all. What I’m suggesting, which is actually a relatively minor point in this blog post, is that service animals should have standardized training and accreditation. Can individuals do that? Probably many people can, but even after owning horses for 20 years I still don’t call myself a horse trainer.

      “OT dogs are fine*” (with an asterisk?) Was there a qualification of some sort to go with that?

      While there are exceptions, I’m not surprised that 200 rescues were tested and only four passed, according to your above statement, because rescues and aren’t bred for service. That’s like telling a member of the Olympic equestrian team that they can get their next Prix St. George competition horse from an auction for $500 by just randomly searching over the next year. While it does happen, it’s extremely rare. Breeding established service dogs vetted for behaviour WILL produce far more desirable results and consistent results than will trying to find rescued animals that fit the bill. It’s no fault of the rescued dogs if they are unsuitable for service careers either.

  3. In light of recent maulings and fatalities by service dogs I propose that the ADA make changes to the use of service dogs as follows:
    1) A dog which as an individual has a history of aggression, including but not limited to killing, mauling, biting, nipping, lunging, growling, food aggression, dog aggression or other animal aggression shall NOT be eligible for use as a service dog.
    2) A dog which according to its BREED STANDARD has been BRED for aggression, including but not limited to the American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American bulldog, preso canario, Dogo Argentino, Cuban bloodhound, and any other pure bred or mixed breed dog that is a combination of these dogs; shall NOT be eligible for use as a service dog.
    3) A dog which according to its BREED STANDARD has been BRED to be disliking or distrustful of strangers, including but not limited to the Akita, Chow, Caucasian Mountain Dog, Cane Corso, and any other pure bred or mixed breed dog that is a combination of these dogs; shall NOT be eligible for use as a service dog.
    4) A dog which as an individual has a history of disliking, distrusting, or being aggressive towards strangers shall NOT be eligible for use as a service dog.
    5) Any dog which is in current use as a service dog which exhibits ANY of the above behaviors shall NOT be eligible to continue as a service dog.
    6) Any dog which is not spayed or neutered shall not be eligible for use as a service dog.
    7) The MINIMUM penalty for the death of a human by a service dog shall be not be LESS than half a million dollar fine and not LESS than five years in jail. The dog shall be euthanized.
    8) The MINIMUM penalty for the severe injury of a human by a service dog shall not be LESS than half a million dollar fine and three years in jail. The dog shall be euthanized.
    9) The MINIMUM penalty for the death of another animal by a service dog shall not be LESS than one hundred thousand dollar fine and a year in jail. The dog shall be euthanized.
    10) The MINIMUM penalty for the severe injury of another animal by a service dog shall not be LESS than a fine of one hundred thousand dollars. The dog shall be euthanized.

  4. i was in walmart a couple weeks ago. a young couple were casually walking a large pit bull through on a loose leash( not safely under control but with plenty of lunging room) through the store. no muzzle, tag, vest, nothing. a few days ago i saw a woman walking a pit through the crowded local fair,nighttime, on the side with the gagmes,rides and excited children. again, casually, looking around , on a loose lead, no muzzle, nothing. i think people are agressively testing how far they can go, and these two pit owners are absolutely the only ones ive seen other than those training or using actual service dogs , and what might happen to those service dogs if the pits decide to go for them? one man i see in the store at times has a genuine service dog which is small. small dogs can absolutely be service dogs for those with epilepsy, diabetes etc as these dogs give early warning..and i dread to think what may happen to it!

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