I recently wrote about people faking guide dog insignia in order to take their dogs in to public places. I had hoped it would help just one person. It might have; but locally, some defiance stirred that I wish to share because the attitude I found was not what I expected. I expected that many people were passing off their pets as service dogs because they cared for their pets enough that they wanted them with them. Pocket puppies, as I call them, seemed to be the rage a few years ago, starting probably with Paris Hilton and other celebrities who made it seem so stylish and cool. I didn’t really agree, but I never gave it much thought. There must have been a lot of other people giving it thought, though, because the trend is growing.
I eat regularly at a lovely country cooking style restaurant in my area called Jeneane’s. The food is fantastic, affordable, and healthy. The people are even better for you as they serve you with not only a smile, but love, too. They even love Little Joe, my guide. The owner and staff strive to follow ADA not just because it is law, but because they understand the spirit behind the law. That is kind of why this particular story started in a way. The staff cared enough to intervene.
A few weeks ago, a customer reported a dog locked in a car in the restaurant’s parking lot. It was a warm Georgia day. The staff asked around until they found the owner of the dog and asked that they take the dog home. The owner insisted on bringing the dog in and claimed the dog was a service dog. The question was asked why, if the dog was a service dog, the owner didn’t bring the dog in when the arrived. The answer given was vague, but seemed to indicate that the owner didn’t want to bring the dog in at first. The staff member explained that the ADA law regarding service dogs is for dogs that are trained to help people that really need that assistance, and those trying to abuse the law were hurting the people who really need it. The person went away a little angry and seemingly unconvinced.
Just a few days before this writing, this same person returned to my favorite restaurant with the small dog inside a carrier. When the staff approached the lady about the dog, the dog owner produced a document stating the dog was a service animal. The lady chuckled and said, “You can’t do anything about it.” After the lady and dog left, a companion that had been with the lady actually told the staff that the lady was bragging that anyone can get away with faking a service dog by buying the documentation and vests on Amazon.com. The lady with the dog was actually giddy that she had “gotten away with it”.
Yes, it is true that you can buy service dog materials on the internet from various places. But the intent is for true service dogs in order to help those who need their services. There are convenient ways to replace their worn out vests and ID cards without returning to the schools that could be several hundred miles away from their home. Also, some disabled persons have needs that a dog can help with, but with no specific school that trains the dogs for those tasks. The ADA law does allow a person to train a dog themselves to fulfill those specific tasks. In these situations, the person would need to purchase their service dog credentials outside of a school setting. These cases are infrequent, but still valid and necessary.
As I have pointed out before, faking service animal credentials or status is not only illegal, but harmful to those who need it. The laws will have to change to prevent such abuse making the situations of the disabled who need these animals more difficult. However, in hearing about this story, I realized that there are many people out there who are doing this not because they love their animals, but because they are just ignorant of the problem. There are many of these people who don’t truly love their animals at all and are actually using them to feel they are getting away with something.
First off, this lady obviously didn’t care much for her dog or know how to take care of it properly because the owner left the dog in a hot car which prompted the concern of another patron and the staff of this restaurant. Second of all, this attitude of just loving to get away with something is becoming more prevalent, even among people who consider themselves good and law-abiding citizens. This is similar to the abuse that was going on in using disabled people at Disney to avoid waiting in lines and get “better” treatment that prompted Disney to disband their program and replace it with one that is proving to be much less beneficial to special needs visitors to the parks. When you approach these people, trying to educate them, you find they often do understand what they are doing and that it can cause changes that hurt people, but they laugh and really don’t care because they are getting what they want at the moment. These are people who are only concerned about themselves and what they want, and they want what they want now. No one else or their problems enter into the equation.
I realize that not everyone is like these people. There are still truly good and compassionate people in the world. Unfortunately, the attitudes of these people are spreading. More and more people are learning to be selfish and doing whatever it takes to get what they want. The good people need to stop the spread. Our influence needs to be what is spread. We need to stop “minding our own business” and take a stand for what is right. It doesn’t have to be an angry takeover. We just need to intervene and say no, there is a better way, a right way.