Service Dogs vs Fake Service Dogs


Yesterday there was a video posted on Facebook about a man who was on a cable car with his service dog, who happened to be a pit bull mix.  The driver was not comfortable with the dog, and tried to throw the man off the car.  The man, knowing his rights, refused, and the police were called.  They threatened to charge the man with trespass.  The man has now stated that he intends to seek legal representation to sue the city.  He is well within his rights to do so.

A service dog is allowed to accompany his/her human anywhere the general public is allowed to go.  A perfect example of this is, your dog can go to the hospital with you, but not into surgery.  Hospitals are open to the public, surgery is not.

There has been a lot of uproar recently because of “fake” service dogs.  People buy a vest off of Amazon, and take their untrained dogs everywhere with them.  That makes life much harder for people who have dogs trained to assist them.

A real trained service dog does not need to wear a vest (although most of them do to avoid issues in public).  There is no such thing as a registration for a service dog (although many of us do carry documentation from a trainer saying that we have been evaluated as a service team).  There is no test.  There is no certification.  All those things are scams that people use to take their untrained dogs in public.  I’ve even seen it happen here at the sanctuary.

So how do you know if a dog is a real service dog?  You are allowed to ask two things: 1) is this a service dog? and 2) what has this dog been trained to do for you?   The handler must be able to answer both questions.  The dog has to have been trained to do something that makes living with a disability easier. That cannot be something any dog would do for his/her person, such as offering comfort/support.   Bubba has been trained to keep people at bay, when I am starting to panic in a crowd.  He’s been trained to get my attention if I start getting worked up.

A real service dog will have completed public access training.  He/she will know not to bark, pull, lunge, growl or behave in any other inappropriate manner.  He/she will not soil in a public place.  Any dog acting in any of these ways can be asked to leave, even if he/she is a service dog.

One time Bubba and I were at Walmart.  We were standing in line at customer service.  A small yappy dog wearing a service dog vest was barking and lunging at us.  Bubba sat at my side, as he has been trained to do, but he did look up at me with an expression that clearly said “hey, you told me I’m not allowed to do that in public.  How come he can get away with acting like such an idiot?”.

The ADA guarantees people with verified disabilities can have a trained service dog at their side.  A dog can’t be treated any differently than any medical device such as crutches or a wheelchair.  But I agree….these idiots who are trying to pass their pets off as trained service dogs are making things difficult for the rest of us.  There are hefty fines associated with lying about your dog.  I wish we would start to see people actually being prosecuted for violating the law.


10 thoughts on “Service Dogs vs Fake Service Dogs

  1. Everything you say is true. My point is that not all businesses know the law…as the video plainly shows. I have been told I would not be allowed to board a plane with Bubba, unless I could produce paperwork “proving” he is a service dog. I could have stood there and argued the law, or I could give them a letter from his trainer. Being right doesn’t mean much if you are not allowed to eat, or shop, or fly.


    1. Service Dogs…must have a letter from your doctor stating you need a service dog. The only people who can ‘see’ the letter or certification/registration is DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORT and DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE. Asking to see the letter is within the statute for ATA agents. In LA you get a special registration form (from the Department of Animal Control) for your service dog, you take that and the letter from your doctor to a notary. You send in the notarized form (stating you have a letter from your doctor, but not a copy of your doctor’s letter…that’s against the ADA law, because legally the county is not authorized to see that letter … just DOT and DOJ as mentioned above) and you receive a special tag that registers your dog as a SERVICE DOG. It replaces the normal dog registration tag. Its in the form of the state of California and is blue with yellow outline…with the registered number on it. It must be renewed every year. This is recognized by Animal Control and police that you indeed have a service dog.

      If you look at the web sites offering registration for your service dog…it is just that. They are offering a place to register a dog who is already recognized as a service dog. It’s a tricky thing, but that’s how they are able to get away with it legally. They are not certifying your dog as a registered service dog, just offering a place to register your service dog.


    2. It looks like the manager DOES know the ADA as the dog is being disruptive to other customers. I have a LEGIT service dog and have taken the time to educate myself on the laws. I have PTSD from serving a tour in Iraq and this guy make sit harder on folks like me who have a REAL disability.


  2. excellent. I think one clarification: I believe the ADA only grants rights to the owner of the business/service to ask those 2 questions (and more of those people SHOULD ask the questions and exclude “service dogs” that are misbehaving, as the ADA permits). A disabled person with a service dog does not have to answer those questions from a member of the general public, anymore than she would have to answer a question about why she’s in a wheelchair (for example). It’s really no one’s business, and everyone should butt out. If you see a problem with a misbehaving service dog, the solution is to inform the business owner


    1. Good point. I completely hear that. Sadly, I live in a community where people bring their (clearly pet dogs, ie: a family will come in with children and the kids with the dog,) into restaurants and grocery stores all the time and the business owners, employees, will not say anything for fear of someone calling them a ‘dog hater’ (seen it happen,) and huff out, spewing horrible things about the business. It seems restaurants and bars are willing to risk their license to please that one customer, even when other tables are complaining to the wait staff. No one wants to touch the ‘sacred’ dog owner. My friend who has a service animal has avoided eating out with me because they don’t want to deal with those people either. It’s very frustrating as a consumer and I have sent letters with our laws quoted. There is even outdoor dining here which does allow dogs in some cases, but in one situation I witnessed, the family ‘wanted to enjoy the air conditioning.’ I probably wouldn’t care as much about this abuse if it didn’t affect everywhere my friend and I go with their service animal. We don’t even visit my hometown much because it’s gotten so crazy and her dog is approached by off-leash animals, or animals on leash whose owners aren’t paying attention – even being mounted by other dogs and this has caused my friend to fall several times — twice into me, (with me falling and hurting my knee one of those times. That almost turned into a lawsuit but they paid all medical bills involved in the end.) As you can see, this ‘simple’ thing has turned into a ‘major’ problem with her being able to just go to reasonable places with reasonable expectations. I even write a letter to the editor of our paper (published,) after my knee injury (meniscus torn. 6 month recovery.) More than half the people who responded to my editorial told me that if I didn’t like it, I should leave the town. Um, I’m not breaking California restaurant code or leash-law! Yet I’m somehow a dog-hater for asking for reasonable, lawful behavior from other citizens. (My friend’s dog is fixed, FYI. The male dogs seem to mount her because they are not fixed. Apparently, everyone feels their dogs are so special in this rich seaside community that they all want to breed them. Mm-hm.)


  3. FANTASTIC article! I’m so tired of the pretenders! My friend’s REAL service dog was attacked on a bus by a dog off leash and carried on by someone else. They told the police (who were called by the bus driver,) it was an ’emotional care dog’ because they were ‘depressed and had anxiety’ but could not produce a letter or document. We went to court over vet bills ($8,000+ due to an infection and bone injury, on a dog costing $14,000+ to begin with for training,) and they produced a letter from a ‘fake’ doctor that was outed by our research. Of course they lost the case (refused to settle at any point,) and refused to pay. We had to bring them back into court, forcing them to produce financial documents, then track a bank account down, get a warrant, have a police sheriff deliver it, and finally get payment. Total loss of time on this matter since the attack? Just shy of four years. FOUR YEARS. And probably over 100 hours easy of my time and their life.

    Most people are shy to ‘out’ the fake ones. Not me. Not anymore. I’ve been accused of being a dog hater, which my two spoiled dogs (adopted from the local humane society,) no doubt find amusing. The fake ones are hurting a LOT of people and abusing the disability act.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sorry that happened to your friend. But you should know that under ADA there is no requirement to have documents on a service animal. SO the fact they couldn’t produce them doesn’t mean anything. Businesses cannot request it. You should also know that as a private citizen you do not have a right to ask about a service animals’ status only business owners and their employees can do that. Also look into local and state laws, a lot of localities have added ordinances that afford “emotional support/comfort dogs” the same access as service dogs.


      1. Pattha – Maybe it should be restated: I can say what I want, I live in a country that gives me that right. Asking that question has been clarified by law and not discriminating. Whether the other party has a legal obligation to respond is another matter. Whether I have the “right” to personally throw someone off or out of a property that I do not own, is another matter. Since 6 of my friends have service animals for their significant disabilities, we all know the law. I encourage you to spend a day in their shoes to truly understand the personal challenges they face throughout the day and how our society and laws fail them, over and over. They also all have documentation on their animals, although regarding some parts of the law, they are not ‘required’ to have documentation through a single, unified system. It would be refreshing if people followed ‘the law’ and paid for damages they singularly called. The opposing party in the legal case said their dog was ‘challenged’ and ‘defending’ its owner because it felt threatened by the service animal. We were very lucky that witnesses provided their contact information and were willing to testify in addition to providing statements to the police. That is rarely the case. Many people feel that disabilities are a ‘disease’ and ‘catching’ and avoid interacting with individuals who are just as amazing and as talented as anyone else, just because there is a wheelchair, or a limp, or their vision isn’t 100%.


    2. having said all that they should have just paid the bills on the simple fact that dog owners are normally legally responsible for damages caused by their dogs whether or not they are a service, comfort, or pet animal.


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