(170) Service Dog Frauds

 Molly's new profile picture

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

It happens in grocery stores, in public libraries, shopping malls, and even Costco. Fraudulent critters appear almost everywhere. They sport a fancy vest with the gratuitous “Do Not Pet – Service Animal” splashed in black letters over fluorescent orange. With wet noses thrust in the air, they traipse into public places with wiggles, waddles, and a whine that belie their service-animal status. In short, they are frauds!

These crude violators of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) are not to blame, of course. Their owners make them act so. Their owners dress them up and take them into public places, forcing them into a life of reprobation. Many do so because their pets suffer from separation anxiety. Rather than dealing with it properly, taking Fido along on a shopping trip avoids more costly damage to chewed upholstery and knocked over trash when leaving the pet home alone. For others, their pets offer companionship in a hostile world.

Regardless of the excuse, dressing a pet in a service vest and accessing places otherwise prohibited to animals is illegal and constitutes fraud. Such behavior not only creates a bad name for real service dogs, but it undermines the public trust that is needed to ensure that those with legitimate disabilities will have continued public access with their service animals.

Why so many Canine Criminals? 

In the past year, Miss Molly stayed home when my Veteran traveled to the VA Hospital or local clinic. So many Veterans brought their untrained dogs into the VA that Miss Molly found it difficult to maneuver without a “phony” nipping at her dewclaws or growling as she passed by.

We speculate about why the increase in these illegal pups.

First, ADA intended to make it easy for persons with disabilities to take their service animals into public places. The government wanted to ensure the disabled owner received minimum hassle and embarrassment when using a legitimate, trained service animal. As a result, limitations outlined what a business could ask about the animal and the handler’s disability. Over time, business owners often found it easier not to ask about the status than risk legal action for violating a disabled person’s rights. The general public quickly caught on to business’s hesitancy to query about an animal’s status.

Second, the internet makes it easy for anyone to purchase a service vest and even false credentials. No standardization exists for credentialing with no central registry for service dogs. As well, ADA allows one to train their own service animal with minimum restrictions on an animal’s training other than to support a legitimate disability. These loose standards make it easy for pet owners to overstate their status, if questioned.

Third, many businesses welcome pets, beginning with pet stores that gained recognition as “pet-friendly” shopping meccas. Many dog owners tell me that if they can take their pet into pet stores, why not other places, too—a true case of the “camel’s nose under the tent.” (Is there such thing as a service-camel?)

What’s to be Done? 

This issue appears on legislative dockets across the United States with most states having laws in addition to the federal ADA. Many service animal organizations cry out for revisions to ADA to toughen up the federal law and impose penalties for Fido-infractions (my terminology for fraudulent claims of a service animal).

Just last week, the State of Colorado House passed unanimously HB1308 entitled, “Fraudulent Misrepresentation of a Service Animal.” The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Daniel Kagan, proclaimed that fraudulent claims cause “discrimination against legitimate guide, hearing and service dogs.” The bill moved to the Senate for a hearing scheduled on April 11.

If passed into law, fines for a first offense range from $350 to $1,000. For a third or subsequent offense, a fine, ranging between $1,000 and $5,000 may also include community service hours.

Working like a Dog 

Service vestAs with any job, one must master the skills and give their work attention, commitment, and heart to be successful. Working as a service dog is no exception. Our disabled Veterans and others with disabilities depend upon our furry fellows to navigate public places. We must support our career canines by preserving the service animal’s role and right to access public places without the distractions presented by those verminy, untrained imposters.

By the way, entering the VA clinic today, we noticed several newly-posted signs that declared, “Service Animals Only.” Inside, we heard no dog skirmishes and observed only a few well-trained service animals. It seems the VA is cracking down on the scruffy scofflaws!

Post your Comments: 

Have you ever witnessed a service-animal imposter in a public place? What tipped you off that the animal was not a qualified service animal? Please reply below. 

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.

(90) Molly Hits the Road with a Backpack and a Sling

Molly, the service dog 

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

Dog Gone It!

You would think a Saint Bernard and Great Pyrenees mix canine would love the cold. After all, both breeds originated in cold weather. While Molly loves a romp in the snow, she cannot tolerate falling snow, rain, or hail.

As in many states, Colorado’s weather is unusual. We have seen rain, hail, snow, thunder, and lightening nearly every day since winter. If it falls from overhead, Molly avoids it as a horse avoids prairie dogs. Even though we take her for walks and chain her outside where she has shelter to do her business, she prefers the comfort of our carpeted basement to poop. With her new lean diet, she has taken to digging into wastebaskets to help herself to a treat, licking an empty wrapper.

I know these are signs of a serious discipline problem—one that we need to control. William promises to call her trainer and arrange for remedial lessons. I believe her behavior results from rebellion to her diet that limits her to four cups of special food a day with no treats or snacks. While she is close to her goal weight, it appears that her rebellious heart is greater than her desire to look good in a bikini. Either way, I am tempted to tell her to hit the road.

Of course, I love Molly and she is an awesome dog when she is working as William’s service animal. I would never get rid of her. So, the title of the blog is not what you might expect.

I wanted to share with you some cool items available for service dogs that can make your life much easier.

The Backpack 

The service dog vest generally comes with a pocket for your dog’s identification and training certificate. Side zippered compartments allow you to pack paper towels, plastic bags, and other small supplies. You can Molly is dressed in her service vestpurchase a vest on-line from a number of vendors such as ADASDF (Active Dogs Academy Service Dog Foundation, Inc.), Workingservicedog.com, Pet Joy, and Service Dog Gear, just to name a few. These companies also make saddlebags for large breed dogs, which can carry supplies for the owner with special needs.

ADASDF also makes backpacks for the dog owner to tote with embroidery of your dog’s breed. My all-time favorite item is the patriotic vest that costs about $80. It is carried by most vendors of service dogs. The only problem is that the vest does not have a visible ID pocket.

The vest is an important, albeit not required, uniform that tells people your dog is a real service dog—especially when the ID is visible. When William needed to appear in traffic court, the clerk told him that as long as Molly wore the orange vest, he could bring his service dog with him to court. This is, of course, not a permitted requirement and does violate ADA. Although the law does not allow your service dog to be denied access because he lacks a vest or identification, it helps ensure you are not hassled or denied access. It also tells people your dog is working and not to pet.

The Sling 

When we first acquired a service dog, I found a canvas car seat cover for our backseats. Although we wanted Tigger to stay in the back compartment area of our SUVs, Tigger refused. Consequently, protecting our vehicle upholstery became important. I purchased the tarp from Harriet Carter. It fits any size vehicle and hooks over the headrests. I noticed the company also sells a travel safety barrier that prevents the nosey dog from peering between the two front seats. Both sell for between $20 and $30.

With Molly being such a big girl, we found that she often rolled off the seat when braking suddenly. She would get wedged or would cram her legs against the seat. I found the perfect solution with Scout’s Seat Cover from Duluth Trading Company, which works like a sling. It hooks over both front and back seats for a seamless fit. Although it is more expensive at $50, it prevents rolling off the seat and keeps the nosey Miss Molly from sticking her nose between the two front seats or digging into our goodies stored on the floor.

I should mention that this blog is not intended to advertise any particular product or endorse any company. I have not received any compensation for listing any link or product. Nor have I received any free product (neither has Miss Molly).

Molly is now well prepared to hit the road in style. Of course, she will be with us and not venturing out on her own. I still have not found that perfect bikini for her new figure but with all of the rain, snow, and cold, I do not think we need to worry about it just yet. If you do know of a source for doggy perfume that prevents a wet dog from smelling like an old carpet, Miss Molly would appreciate hearing from you.

Post your Comments: 

Do you have a special product or vendor that makes life easier for you or your service dog? Please reply below. 

Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.