Addressing problems with fake service dogs, part two

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In my article in the last issue of this paper, I brought to mind an issue that truly angers me: False claims by some people that their dogs are service dogs or emotional support animals (ESAs) when, in fact, they are not.

Here are some facts to consider about the laws surrounding this issue.

An airline or proprietor may not ask the service dog owner what disability they have. They can ask what service the dog is trained to perform.

They may not ask if the person has a doctor's letter requiring a service animal, but given such letters can be faked anyway, what's the difference?

The rules for an ESA are different.

An airline or proprietor may ask why the animal provides support and ask for a letter from a licensed mental health professional dated within a year, endorsing the animal as an ESA and the benefits it provides for the mental or psychological disability.

If the airline or store suspects that the dog is a "fake," they can call the police. If abuse is found, the owner can be fined and can even be jailed. Most places don't go to that extreme because they don't want to cause a public scene, but some will if the animal is not well behaved.

ESA or comfort dogs do not have to be trained to perform a skill other than emotional support but they should be well-behaved in public. A service or ESA dog does not get a pass on public behavior, even in the place they live. If an ESA dog barks incessantly in an apartment, the landlords do have right to have the dog removed as a nuisance.

There are a myriad of issues when someone abuses the law because of their own selfishness. Often these fake ESA dogs are ill behaved, barking and causing stress to legitimate support or service dogs.

The fakers also give the legitimate dogs a bad name. Airline staff in particular complains about these so-called ESA dogs, whose owners often take up aisle space, block people or cause discomfort to others. There have been so many of these dogs on planes that some personnel believe no pets should be allowed. This will ultimately hurt those who have legitimate reasons to be there.

What's the bottom line? Stricter laws need to be on the books legally identifying support and service dogs without infringing on the rights of the disabled. Owners should be held accountable immediately for legitimate proof.

Companies offering products online to "legitimize" fakes should be put out of business. Doctors who provide letters to people they don't know should be brought to face medical ethics agencies.

Write to your state and federal government asking for policies that cut down on this nationwide abuse.

What else can be done? Don't tolerate your neighbors and friends abuse. Speak up to them, and do not support their selfish fakery.

For more information visit this link to a extended article on the topic: www.outsideonline.com/2236871/stop-faking-service-dogs. I urge you to read this and confront anyone you know who is an abuser.

Abby Bird is owner of Alpha Dog Obedience Training. ajbird@hargray.com

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