Service dogs are a hot topic. More and more people are finding there are great benefits in using a service dog. Because of this, we are seeing more and more service dogs in public places which brings up a lot of questions of how to deal with dogs in public places and how to spot the fakers. 

I have been using a service dog for several years now and I have seen the way our local businesses handle having a working dog in their establishment and at times it has been very difficult and frustrating. At first I was met with shock (some people even jumped sideways at the sight of my dog). I have been chased around a store even after I asked for the manager because this employee just wasn't comprehending my explanation about how a service dog is allowed in the store. That was a few years ago and now that type of response has eased into curiosity and acceptance.

When you see someone that has a service dog and they are shopping in a store, don't stare, don't feel compelled to ask questions, just let them be. Respect their privacy. You do not need to know why they have a service dog. If you ask to pet the dog you are more than likely taking that dog out of his work zone and taking the person he is helping out of their comfort zone.

I read an article on Anything Pawsable and totally agree with the writer Kea Grace's points regarding her 10 Things Service Handlers Want You to Know so I combined points with mine and here are the things I would like you to know about me and my service dog:

  • My Service Dog is Working - When we are out and about my dog is working. Do not acknowledge his presence. I know its hard to do because he is beautiful but you must ignore him. Do not talk to him, whistle or try to touch him. He is doing his job which is to focus on me, not you.
  • My Service Dog is My Lifeline - My service dog is very special to me. My health and peace of mind rests in his paws. If you distract him and he is not able to respond to my needs appropriately, my ensuing illness or injury is your fault. Please ignore him completely and let him work.
  • My Medical History is Private - Kea Grace said this better than I could have when she said, “Please don’t ask me about my diagnosis, try to guess the reason I have a Service Dog, or ask me to disclose my private medical history. Even if you can’t readily tell what my disability may be, it’s really none of your business. Making inquiries about personal information is not only uncalled for, it’s very rude.”
  • I Don’t Want to Chat or Answer Questions - My service dog has made a huge difference in my life and talking about dogs is one of my most favorite subjects but I’m not always up for chatting. I have had to abort many shopping trips before because so many folks wanted to ask what his job is, what his name is, who trained him, what does he do and so on. Please do not be offended but I’m all talked out and many of the questions feel like an invasion of my privacy.
  • Please do not Compare us to Another Team - Service dogs can be any breed and they all have different specialties. If you encountered a fake service dog, please do not compare me or my dog to that situation.
  • I Love my Service Dog - Just like you and I have jobs and play time, so does my dog. He is not always on duty. He gets to be a ‘normal dog’ at home and we play a lot too.
  • Treat my Service Dog like Medical Equipment - I’m going to leave this just as Kea Grace wrote: “My Service Dog is medical equipment, just like a wheelchair, crutches or an oxygen tank…medically necessary and anywhere in public medical equipment is allowed, so is my Service Dog. Additionally, please treat him like medical equipment. You wouldn’t walk up to someone you didn’t know and just randomly start pushing their wheelchair or talk to a little old lady’s cane, so please don’t touch, talk to, pet or otherwise engage with my partner.”
  • My Service Dog is Protected Under Law - United States federal law protects my rights as well as my Service Dog’s rights to go anywhere in public together. Just like Kea Grace says, “There are no exceptions, and we don’t care if food is being made, it’s a hospital or you don’t want dogs in your business. Federal law gives my Service Dog complete access, and your opinion doesn’t matter.” The only way a service dog can be excluded from any public place is if it is not housetrained or is out of control, which obviously does not discribe me because my dog is very well behaved.
  • There is No Certification Required - I have been stopped by employees of businesses and requested to provide ‘a card’ to prove we are legit. Guess what folks, there are no necessary identification cards or certifications that gives me legal permission to have my service dog in public places and it is actually illegal for you to ask for any. My dog wears a vest to show that he is working and for those uneducated people that just don’t get it, I do have a card but it is usually in my vehicle and it ticks me off when you ask for it. There are only two questions that you can legally ask if you are in question as to the validity of my service dog: (1) Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) What work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Those are the only questions you can ask and that’s not ‘just because you are curious.’
  • I’d Rather Not Need a Service Dog - When you say that you would like to be able to take your dog everywhere with you that sounds like you think I do it for the hell of it. In order to have a service dog you have to be disabled so you are either implying that I am an impostor or that you want to have the same problems that I do. Taking a dog everywhere I go is not especially convenient and comparing your pet to my well trained partner is an insult. My service dog has had thousands of hours of training.

I am sure you have heard the terrible stories of people being kicked out of restaurants for having a service dog or being treated unfairly. There was even a segment of ABC's "What Would You Do" covering this very subject. Then there is the story about Taylor Gipson says he was kicked out of a Popeye's restaurant. Because there has been such an increase in the use of service animals, the Department of Justice published revised final regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on September 15, 2010, in the Federal Register. These requirements, or rules, clarify and refine issues that have arisen over the past 20 years and contain new, and updated, requirements, including the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (2010 Standards).

The Department of Justice, in its guidelines for implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act, defines "service animals" as "dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities." This can include "alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties."

The American Disability Act defines what business owners and their employees can ask a person with a service dog. When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask just two questions and they are only to be asked if it is necessary for the course of business, not out of ordinary curiosity. These are the questions that may be asked:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability.
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform.

"Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task."

According to ADA Regulations, service animals are required to be allowed in establishments that sell or prepare food. "Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals," according to the guidelines. Additionally, if someone is allergic to animals, the allergic person and the person with the service dog should be assigned to different locations if possible, the guidelines say.

Here are many of the answers to the questions that many people have about service dogs:

Where Service Animals Are Allowed

Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, for example, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.

A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken.

Establishments that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.

People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated from other patrons, treated less favorably than other patrons, or charged fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals. In addition, if a business requires a deposit or fee to be paid by patrons with pets, it must waive the charge for service animals.

There are many impostors out there that just want to take their pets into stores. Here is a great list from Anything Pawsable that talks about how a service dog should act in public so you can help spot a fake and alert the store's manager:

Service Dogs in Public Should:

  • Focus on their handler at all times unless doing trained task work.
  • Possess a stable, even temperament without anxiety, reactivity or aggression of any kind.
  • Walk nicely on a leash without pulling, straining, lunging, lagging, circling or forging.
  • Remain quietly by their handler’s side when their handler stops without wandering or losing focus.
  • Lay quietly under the table or beside their handler’s chair without getting up or moving around excessively. Changing positions is fine; outright breaking stays to respond or engage with distractions or to wander off is not.
  • Ignore distractions.
  • Be quiet at all times unless performing specific, trained task work. Outside of trained and necessary task work, there should be NO other vocalization, including, but not limited to, whining, grumbling, wooing, barking, growling, whimpering or other noise. Unless working, Service Dogs should be seen by the public and not heard.
  • Appear professional, well-groomed and well-taken care of. Your Service Dog is a representative of both you and the Service Dog community. She should always leave everyone she comes in contact with with excellent impressions.
  • Keep his or her nose to his or her self at all times, even if there are food, products or other interesting things readily accessible. Sniffing people, objects or food is not only rude, it’s a possible health hazard. Exceptions to this rule include Allergen Alert Dogs or other Service Dogs who rely on their nose to perform their work. However, the Service Dog’s sniffing should be directly related to task work and not random or merely “exploring.”
  • Respond quickly and readily to the handler’s commands, cues or directions. Service Dogs should give off the appearance to anyone watching that they are highly trained and that they completely understand what’s being asked of them. Service Dogs should possess outstanding obedience skills and above-average manners and both should be readily apparent. A Service Dog’s demeanor, training and behavior should, without question, differentiate them from  all but the best-trained pet dogs.
  • Be able to do pertinent task work to mitigate their handler’s disability. In order to be considered a “Service Dog” under U.S. federal law, a dog must be partnered with an individual with a disability AND perform specific, trained task work to mitigate that disability. Task work is not optional. If a dog doesn’t perform task work, she’s not a Service Dog – she’s an Emotional Support Animal and she doesn’t belong in public.

This video was just too funny to pass up!