As we move into the new year, service dogs have already begun showing up in the news. Some of the more recent and controversial stories center on people calling their dogs service dogs when they are not actually service dogs. This is an issue that has serious ramifications for real service dogs and their handlers.
Service dogs help their handlers enter public places like restaurants, stores, and even airplanes. A dog owner who treats his or her dog like a service dog when it is not one is breaking the law. More importantly, it has a negative effect on those who truly need their service dogs.
The Purpose of a Service Dog Vest
A service dog vest is one of the most visually helpful ways of helping the public understand your dog is a service dog. One glance at a dog with a vest is usually enough for members of the public to understand that your dog is not a pet, but a service dog helping you. That is why when someone uses a service dog vest to “cheat the system” in order to get their dog into a public place, it undermines the people who actually need one.
A dog’s behavior is usually a clear indication of whether it is actually a service dog or not. However, negative experiences with dogs who are not actually service dogs could eventually skew the public’s opinion of service dogs as a whole, causing the public to question any dog in a public place whether they have a service dog vest on or not. This would be a serious problem for handlers who actually need their service dog.
What You Can Do
Fortunately, we have also seen news stories that favor real service dogs and their handlers. Laws are being passed that have harsh consequences for those who abuse the rights granted to people with disabilities. Over time, the laws may remove some of the skepticism that has begun growing around the presence of service dogs in public areas.
In the meantime, a service dog vest, while not required, may still help inform others that your dog is a service dog. You may also find it helpful to carry with you other means that identify your dog as a service dog:
• ID cards
Although these items aren’t required for you to take your service dog in public areas, they can help you avoid potentially uncomfortable situations.