Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Service Dogs and You

It is a crime to lie about whether your dog is a Service Dog.

Would I like more public places and businesses to allow "pet" dog access? Yes. But I'm not going to lie about Elka. Elka could technically, at this point, be considered my "in house" service dog. She has prevented numerous full-blown migraines for me. She can pick up items that I've dropped and retrieve items that I name. I taught her to brace when I lean on her, and she can help me up and even walk with me if I'm leaning. But have I trained her for public access? Not to a degree that I'm comfortable doing something like, say, taking her to a grocery store on a busy Saturday afternoon.

Yet, this past Saturday, somebody in my town did just that.
how embarassing

This individual's Doberman is, by all accounts, the sort of Doberman on whom  the myths are formed, that they tell stories about. He is absolutely humongous, he is always straining at the end of his leash, he is always showing teeth (and this is from multiple people telling me; I haven't had the dubious pleasure of encountering this pair). One of my coworkers saw them at a local grocery store, in the middle of the Saturday afternoon rush. The dog had some kind of tags on him, obviously meant to denote him as a service dog. People were fleeing the aisles at his behavior.

From what my coworker described, there could be a number of reasons for this. First, especially based on his "super size", he does not seem to be a well bred dog. Bigger is not better; there is a breed standard for a reason. People who breed dogs out of standard for size also occasionally disregard things like temperament. People who buy a Big Huge Doberman to Protect Them From the Whole Wide World also let certain things fall by the wayside, like training and socialization. A well socialized dog is one who can make accurate and informed decisions about whether people can be trusted. An ill socialized dog will regard people with suspicion, and be reactive to their presence.

Second, the dog could be "in training". The owner, if I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt, might be teaching him how to act in situations like that, and might have taken it too quickly. I unfortunately can't give her the benefit of the doubt, because she was apparently screaming "he's my therapy dog" at the top of her lungs.

Well. A therapy dog is a dog certified by an organization to make visits to facilities like hospitals and nursing homes. A therapy dog does not have access rights to a grocery store. These are hard things to keep track of, and I myself get them scrambled quite a lot. But, I know for certain that the purpose of a service dog is to mitigate a person's disability such that they can operate in the world. So, a seeing eye dog, a mobility assistance dog, a seizure alert dog, a peanut sniffing dog. Might the woman have agoraphobia, and use the dog to get past that? Judging from other behavior my coworkers have described to me? Perhaps. But, because of the reports of the dog's behavior, it sounds to me like they feed off of one another, getting nervous and snappy and reactive in human presence.

I feel that if the "therapy dog" (maybe she used the wrong words?) was for agoraphobia (my own speculation), that she should have a very calm, very well behaved, leash mannered, bomb proof dog. Can a Doberman be these things? Certainly. Is hers? No. And I'm disappointed that she isn't willing to take enough responsibility to make that judgement, because everybody who was at that store has had their opinions of the Doberman breed colored. Also, calling your dog a "service dog" when he or she is not is a prosecutable offense, and undermines the credibility of every individual who needs their service dog with them. People with service dogs have a hard enough time as it is; don't be selfish. To add to my frustration, the grocery store where this took place (and indeed, 3 of the 4 grocery stores in town) is 24 hour. I know I don't like shopping in a crowded store, and that's why I go at 11 o'clock at night. Maybe if this person had, even with her out of control dog, this scene could have been avoided.

From ada.gov :
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 animal's owner does not take effective action to control it (for example, a dog that barks repeatedly during a movie) or (2) the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

I hope that the store managers who removed this woman from the store realized that she was "doing it wrong" and don't approach the next person who has a service dog with this incident in mind. I hope that the people who were there realize that this is not an example of  how a Doberman should behave. 


  1. People have been doing this on our public transportation in Portland. I haven't seen it for myself but it's ruined the lives of actual service dog teams enough to make headlines.

    Drives me crazy.

  2. Oooh, no. Stories like that make me crazy. People and dogs like that are making it extremely difficult for honest-to-goodness service dogs and their people to navigate the world. Further, it makes it even more challenging to get places to approve visits from therapy dogs... A school teacher who observes that grocery store incident may not want a "therapy dog" to come read with her classroom! The distinction between therapy dogs and services dogs, unfortunately, isn't understood by most people or else her shouting "therapy dog" could have gotten her kicked out before she even came in!

  3. So sad to abuse a very good system. The woman and dog obviously need a lot more training (if they ever had proper training). ACH!

  4. Stuff like that drives me nuts. I work at a college for some sporting events, and the number of people with so-called "service animals" who are horribly behaved and need to be asked to leave because of their dog's behavior makes me cringe. And, it makes things harder for those people who have valid service dogs, such as a woman who comes to every game with her exceptionally well behaved seizure alert dog.

  5. @Ximena It drives me crazy too! I can't even express what a breach of common decency it is to me. This is worse than like, saying your kid is 12 instead of 14 to get a cheaper price. This is like saying you have a disease to get the medicine that somebody else NEEDS so you can sell it to junkies.

    @Maggie I really wish that everybody was more educated on the distinctions of what the purpose of a service dog might be, what a therapy dog is, what the laws are, etc. We all know what those big red signs that say "Stop" mean, this should be something that people know as well!

    @Roberta I sort of feel that the system is so open as to allow a lot of abuse, but I really don't want there to be more regulation. I appreciate that "registration" isn't necessary, and that owner-trained service dogs are just as legal and have the same rights as organizational ones. I just wish that there was better guarantee and protection of the validity of the thing. And then privacy laws make it hard to pinpoint if somebody is "really" disabled. It's something of a mess!

    @K-Koira I really don't understand why people want to bring dogs to sporting events! Much like bringing dogs to fireworks displays, it's crowded, it's noisy, and it's potentially dangerous! And again, they're undermining the credibility of people who have a valid need. It's so maddening!

  6. This situation is the reason for breed stereotypes. People who have a completely unruly, untrained dog taking them places they should not be, will leave everyone who encountered that dog thinking all Dobermans are like that.

    I have been in several situations where a person has simply claimed their dog was a service dog, when it is obvious no training has been done with the pet. One situation which I will never forget was in one of my lecture classes in college. A girl had a little poodle type dog in her Louis Vuitton (of course) that was barking throughout the entire lecture. The professor had asked her to leave with the dog and she told him it was her "service" dog. This dog did not have any ID to say that it was a service dog and I will give her the benefit of the doubt that it was, but I would think it would have been better trained then.

  7. We work so hard to convince business owners to welcome pets, and then people do things like this. It makes me crazy! You are absolutely correct that therapy dogs are not allowed special access. Its unfortunate that people are so selfish - how will this grocery store staff feel the next time a person enters with their service animal?