I’ve written before about the issue of certification for service dogs in Canada and how discriminatory some provinces are for service dogs and their handlers. However, there is a growing problem across Canada in terms of people faking disabilities in order to take their pet dog out in public.
Actually I doubt that they realise that that’s what they’re doing. However, if you take a pet dog out in public and call it a service dog when you’re not disabled to a point that a service dog mitigates your disability then you are faking a disability.
To have a service dog in Ontario a medical professional must have written you a letter, that you must carry with you, that states that you need a service dog to mitigate your disability. Without that letter a dog, no matter how well behaved, is a fake service dog.
Why is this such an issue? Well it takes about 2 years to fully train a service dog and training continues throughout its working life. Service dogs are trained to cope with a huge variety of situations and scenarios. Throughout all they are required to be calm, quiet and do their job.
Pet dogs are not trained to the levels that a service dog is. Even extremely well trained dogs, such as a police dog, is not expected to behave as calmly as a service dog is.
So when you bring your pet dog out in public and come across a legitimate service dog team the majority of pet dogs will misbehave. They’ll bark, lunge, try to ‘say hello’ to the service dog and in some cases even attack the service dog. I know of several teams whose service dogs have been attacked and the dog had to be retired from service work as a consequence. Leaving that handler isolated and bereft.
Additionally, people take their pet dogs out in public and they are way beyond their comfort level so they misbehave. That puts the next service dog team at risk of being refused public access due to the first dogs behaviour. It’s not right and shouldn’t happen, but it does.
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are an American concept and is needed to allow pets in non pet friendly housing. They do not exist in Canada, aside from in Calgary by-laws for livestock! With that exception either your dog is a full service dog or it’s not.
If it’s not then please realise that when you take your pet dog out in public and call it a service dog that you are really faking a disability.
To be totally honest having a service dog is hard work. It’s not something many people would choose unless they’ve tried everything else first. It’s like having a permanent toddler. Everywhere I go I have to think about my dog’s safety and what tools, such as boots or ear protection, I might need.
Additionally, I have to be ready to deal with the people who try and interact with my dog when it’s working despite a clearly labelled vest which asks people to ignore the dog. I also have to be ready to listen to everybody’s dead dog story. I have no idea why service dog handlers are expected to listen to such stories but I’m not alone in coming across this. Even if people leave us alone they still point and stare. Working a service dog is not for the faint at heart. A 10 minute trip to the store can become 30-45 minutes easily just dealing with other people.
So let me reiterate: Please stop taking out pet dogs and calling them service dogs. You are discriminating against the disabled in doing so and making the life of legitimate service dogs teams much harder. Please just stop!