Service dogs and emotional support dogs are like two sides of the same coin, and the coin seems to be totally misunderstood by even the most astute professionals.
The law is very clear as it is posted on the ADA (American Disabilities Act) website. The problem comes from the dog owner and their desire to take advantage of a misunderstood program, the fear of the business owner to be tagged in a discrimination suit and the general public’s misunderstanding of the importance of taking care of our disabled citizens.
We see it every day, a man who borrowed his mom’s car and parks in a handicap zone at the grocery store as a truly disabled person drags themselves from the parking stall 50 yards out. The electric carts are all taken at the store as the elderly on crutches and canes trip down the aisles while free-riders zip around in the carts because “they worked hard all day.” Dog owners wanting to parade their pets in public places, calling them service dogs without an ounce of training.
Faced with problems, stemming from years of military service, a service dog turned out to be a good solution for me. So I took in Benny, and we became a team.
The owner of a real service dog makes sure his partner takes care of business – outside, that is – before entering a place of business. His partner walks alongside your leg or the shopping cart when in the store, and wears his well-lettered service jacket with the “please don’t pet sign” posted. Well-meaning people always try to pet the dog, but that is not what the dog is there for. Benny is there for my medical needs.
If they bark in the store, they are not likely to be service dogs. If they smell the food or shelves or eat off the floor, they may be impostors. If they pay attention to other dogs or bark at them, that’s suspicious.
If they lick kids’ faces, or the owner has more of a picnic than a business attitude, he or she may not be a service dog. If they don’t shadow you 24/7, they may not be your service dog.
People often say to me, “I have a service dog.” I always ask, “Where is he or she?” They say, “At home” or “my daughter takes care of him for me.” Sorry folks, that is not a service dog, maybe a great pet, but surely not a service dog.
And service dogs don’t do everything. For example, Benny doesn’t sniff for drugs, and a drug sniffer may not check for land mines. They are trained for two, maybe three jobs, and become extremely loyal in doing them for their owner.
When a dog doesn’t act like I have described, and a well-trained professional or the handler isn’t courteous, you are probably not dealing with a true service dog.
Oh, I almost forgot, post your registration or service dog ID on the service dog coat. And state law requires a legitimate, written, signed doctor’s prescription in your wallet.
Don Dinsmore, a Navy veteran and longtime Kent resident, regular contributes to the Kent Reporter.