According to the Guardian, a study from the University of California at Davis determined the number of emotional support animals registered by animal control facilities in the state increased 1,000% between 2002 and 2012. Since 2015, the National Service Animal Registry has seen a 200% increase in registered animals.
While some of these animals are fully trained service animals, many are not. Delta Airlines has reported an 84% surge in animal incidents since 2016, including urination, defecation, and biting. One supposed service dog even invaded the stage at a performance of Cats.
Many employees aren't trained to determine a real service animal from a fake one, and often let any animals in out of fear of denying someone with an actual service animal.
But as one service animal owner explains, this can have very real consequences for people who actually need their service animals.
The owner of Faith, a miniature American shepherd trained as my medical alert and psychiatric service dog for her owner's chronic migraines and mental health issues, took to Tumblr to explain the very real impact that fake service animals have on her.
Faith's owner explains:
"You’re sitting at a cafe with your friend when suddenly a woman walks in with a toy poodle in her purse. The manager at the counter informs her 'I’m sorry, but we do not allow dogs.' She replies with a heavy sigh and a 'She’s a service dog. She can come with me.'"
"Not knowing much about service dog law, and worrying about getting sued for asking further questions, he sits this woman down at a booth. There, she promptly unzips her purse and places the dog on the booth seat next to her. When the woman’s food comes out, the little dog begs and she feeds her bits off her plate."
"This dog is not public access trained, and proceeds to bark at those who walk by. This dog is a nuisance and causes many in the restaurant to complain. The manager cannot do anything but inform the unhappy customers that this is a service dog, so he can’t ask her to leave. In the end, it’s the customers who end up leaving."
This can have very real consequences, as Faith's owner goes on to explain:
"Now I walk in with my highly trained service dog pressed against my leg in a perfect heel position, and I’m quickly bombarded by the manager telling me 'No dogs! No dogs! We ALL know what happened last time.'"
"Confused, I tell him 'This is my medical alert and medical response service dog. Her right to accompany me is protected under federal law.' With a sigh, he seats me at a table far away from others where my dog promptly tucks under my feet, out of sight."
"When my food arrives my dog is still tucked tightly under the table because she knows she’s not supposed to eat when she’s on duty. She stays there ignoring those who walk past for the remainder of my meal. When we leave, a woman by the door exclaims 'Woah, I didn’t know there was a dog here!'"
"See the difference?"
Faith's owner goes on to explain another experience they've had:
"Scenario number two occurs at a local grocery store when a man decides to bring his certified emotional support animal into the store with him. Upon entering he flashes a fancy ID card and certification papers."
"This dog is not as unruly as the first, but he still forges ahead of his handler, sniffs the food on display, and may seek attention from those who walk past. You find this dog adorable, and when he and his owner walk past you ask to pet him. The owner says yes and explains how all he had to do was go online, register his dog, and a few weeks later they sent him a vest, ID card, and certification papers."
"Now I pull into the same grocery store. I’m in a rush to get an ingredient for a dish I’m making so I hurry into the store with my service dog next to me. I’m quickly stopped by a manager who demands to see my service dog’s certification card."
"Remember, this is NOT required by law, and most real service dog teams don’t have them. After 15 minutes of trying to educate, pulling up the ADA website on my phone, back and forth bickering, and drawing more of a crowd than I want to describe… I’m finally allowed in."
"I grab my ingredient, stand in line (where my service dog obediently moves between my legs to make space for those around me), and I get bombarded by people asking to pet my dog. I explain that she’s working, she has a very important job to do, and she’s not allowed to be pet while on duty."
"People walk away grumbling and complaining about how rude I was when other handlers like the man they met earlier allow their dog to be pet."
The Tumblr user goes on to explain the lesson we should all take away from their post.
"Moral of the story? Fake service dogs create real problems. The ones who are impacted the most are the true service dog handlers who rely on their dogs every day to help mitigate their disability. How would you feel if everywhere you went, you couldn’t make it 10 feet in the door because people were asking you questions?"
"Imagine how much time that would take out of your already hectic day. Businesses lose customers because word gets out that there are unruly dogs in their store, customers become misinformed and start thinking some of these behaviors are okay, some people even start to believe the lies that anyone can just register their dog online and make him a service dog. The result? MORE fake service dogs. MORE real problems."