Written by guest blogger Sara – original post January 5, 2016
One day, I was browsing through my newsfeed on Facebook, as per usual, when an interesting photo popped up.
It was a peer of mine holding her dog in a locally owned arts and crafts store. I looked at the comments, and the most recent was one of her friends asking: “Wow, they let you bring him in the store?”
“I know of some teams where the service dog has had to either go through retraining or be retired from work entirely, due to an unfortunate encounter with a pet dog in a place where the pet should not have been.”
For some people, this would have alarm bells ringing in their head.
Because somebody is obviously going to reply, “They asked me if he was a service dog, I said yes and that’s all I had to do,” or “Ha ha, yeah, I just say he’s a service dog and they can’t kick him out.” It’s a struggle many handlers have come across. “Fake” service dogs, or more accurately, pets that are portrayed as service dogs, are certainly a problem for service dog teams. I know of some teams where the service dog has had to either go through retraining or be retired from work entirely, due to an unfortunate encounter with a pet dog in a place where the pet should not have been.
Yes, it would be a real kick to the face for this peer of mine to have responded with affirmation that she had, in fact, misrepresented her pet as a SD. Considering we have had classes and outings together, before and after Velvet and I were a working team; I should have every right to go in tooth and nail, bombs away, right? How dare she do this to me, to other teams?
No. All I had seen was a photo and the poster had not responded with any indication that she had posed her companion dog as a service dog. In fact, my phone had a notification that there was an additional comment on the photo. Scrolling down, she had responded to the person asking how she took her dog into the store. Her response: “I asked the owner if it was okay if I brought him in.” Bingo! Some stores, as long as they are not violating health department codes, are pet friendly. I commented explaining how some non-pet stores can be pet-friendly, and was thanked for the explanation.
Now, imagine if I had gone in prepared to start a war over this.
Feelings probably could have been hurt over my assumption. Rather than being known as a friend who would gently educate, I would be known as a trouble-maker who can’t enjoy a good photo of a cute dog in a dog-friendly store. Also, this person knows I am a service dog handler. What example would I be setting for her as one of her few, possibly only, friends who uses a service dog to mitigate a disability?
“It doesn’t take an entire lecture to gently educate these simple misunderstandings.”
How long did it take to avoid potentially starting a fight? About five minutes.
Unless a person is blatantly saying, “I’m just saying my pet is a service dog to get him into stores,” we cannot know the full story behind a picture. Many people are uneducated about the laws behind service dogs. How many handlers knew all of the laws before utilizing a service dog to improve their daily life?
I am not saying to sit every person down and start with the history of service dogs being utilized. You do not have to go out of your way to educate, especially when you have your own daily life schedule to attend to. All I am saying is, be kind and do not make assumptions. Proper education of service dog laws in America is desperately needed. Simple misunderstandings due to lack of service dog education are experienced by different teams every day, such as a greeter saying “Dogs aren’t allowed in here,” or a child exclaiming, “I didn’t know they let dogs in here!” It doesn’t take an entire lecture to gently educate these simple misunderstandings.
With the emergence of social media, many people have assigned themselves the task of hunting down fakers.
Do some people blatantly pose their pets as service dogs, knowing exactly what they are doing? Of course. There are also many other cases that could be the story which people do not know. What if the person has been advised by their health professional to get an emotional support animal and is not educated about the different between ESAs and service animals? What if the individual does have a disability that could be mitigated by a service dog specifically trained to assist with the individual, but doesn’t know how to get started? Until the full story is posted, assumptions should not be made about a snapshot.
Many misunderstandings service dog users encounter with the public are not direct insults to the team, but simply a lack of education. This is why I am glad Growing Up Guide Pup is dedicating themselves to educating the general public in various ways. Aside from laws, Growing Up Guide Pup also showcases the adventures of puppy-raising, introducing readers to the various types of service dogs, and much more. Even as a service dog handler, I love reading the articles that are posted by guest bloggers and watching Matt and Amie’s vlogs of their puppy raising adventures. The website, videos, and social media tools utilized by GUGP are a vault of valuable educational tools.