Service dogs are one of the most endearing examples of the human/animal bond where a person who is disabled is able to live independently through assistance and life partnership of a canine that is trained and licensed to help care for him or her. Service dogs have proven to be an invaluable component to life in the modern world helping people that live with disabilities ranging from hearing and vision impairment, seizure disorders, paralysis, and even post traumatic stress syndrome.
With all good things, there will always inevitably be a certain ilk of people who seek to exploit or unethically take advantage of a program that has honorable intentions and results. In the case of service dogs, people have learned that in many cases, they can throw a service vest on any random dog to take advantage of veterinarians that offer service dog discounts and take their dogs anywhere they wish.
I was prompted to write about this issue because a young man came into my office this week with an 8 month old German Shepherd that he was calling a “service dog in training” donning a camouflage vest with a PTSD Service Dog patch on either side of it. The dog had never before seen a veterinarian and the owner had administered vaccines himself from vaccines he bought at a local feed store. The dog was not spayed and as is typical with backyard bred German Shepherds, the dog was a neurotic mess and fear biting risk.
My BS radar immediately went up, as REAL service dogs come from very controlled breeding lines that breed for health, conformation, and temperament. They are required to have full and comprehensive veterinary care (by an actual licensed veterinarian) from the moment they are born and must be spayed or neutered by 6 months of age. Throughout the training process, they are regularly evaluated for their behavior and conduct to ultimately pass and achieve certified service dog status.
A significant number of these dogs fail and are adopted out despite a considerable expense that goes into their development. In fact, there are usually waiting lists to adopt failed service dogs because even the one who fail are dogs that have been fully vetted, spayed or neutered, and have remarkable health and temperament.
From an ethical and karma stand point, faking a service dog is just plain wrong. When one fakes a service dog, he or she is basically pretending to be disabled. This would be equivalent to faking handicapped signage to get a nice and close handicapped parking space. Trying to gain discounted services based on a lie is nothing short of fraud.
From a logistical point of view, faking a service dog puts the existence and effectiveness of real ones in jeopardy. Consider, for example, if the previously mentioned fake service dog were to behave poorly in a retail or service establishment or an otherwise public forum or bite somebody. This would immediately start a backlash against allowing service dogs in retail and service establishments and taint the perception of legitimately disabled people and their legitimately certified service dogs.
Lastly, anyone who engages in faking service dog status should understand that doing so is a federal crime. At least 19 states that I am aware of are getting very serious about people who fake service dogs and are cracking down on the practice. From the view of law enforcement, faking a service dog is not only fraud, without the regulation of the service dog governing bodies, fake service dogs pose a public health threat from disease or physical injury to others due to lack of proper preventive veterinary health care, ethical breeding, and training.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality throughout a number of subjects and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.