PETALUMA, Calif. – Service dogs have special access to places that other dogs don’t, such as restaurants and airplanes, leading some people to lie and claim their pets are specially trained.
According to service dog trainers, all it takes for dog owners to obtain special access for their pets is a vest or a badge that says “Service Dog,” and such identification can be found online for just a few dollars.
But the abuse of service dog identification has resulted in establishments banning service dogs all together, even those whose owners honestly depend on them.
Petaluma resident Wallis Brozman says her service dog Kaspin makes it possible for her to live independently, saying the black Labrador “opens doors, both literally and figuratively.”
Brozman takes to Kaspin to restaurants in her town but sometimes she’s wrongfully denied.”I’ll say, ‘This is a service dog, it helps my disability,’ and they’ll say, ‘it doesn’t matter. The last dog we had in here wasn’t well behaved,'” said Brozman. Brozman said she feels the denials stem from the growing problem of people passing off their pets as service animals by using fake identification.”People are going up to the website, plunking down $50 and getting a backpack or vest that says service dog or whatever,” said Corey Hudson, CEO of Canine Companions for Independence.
Hudson’s company in Santa Rosa runs an intensive training program for service dogs. He said Monday that dogs that have not been properly trained can attack real service dogs, thereby endangering their disabled owners.
Through his organization, Hudson has been campaigning to make it more difficult to buy service dog vests or markings online. But past experiences have shown Hudson that it’s a hard problem to solve. “It’s the same people who violate the placards with regard to handicap parking. There are people who will push the envelope and there are a lot of them,” said Hudson.
Realistically, nothing can stop someone from claiming an ordinary dog has been trained to serve as a service animal. But California’s State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind voted Monday afternoon to launch an ad campaign that shames those who cheat and abuse the identification system. It was not immediately known when the board’s campaign would begin.