Service dog Phoebe takes a break

Service dog Phoebe takes a break

My curiosity about service dogs began when a friend told me he’d bought a certification letter from a website so that his beloved dog could fly with him on the plane for free. (Love the friend, hate the ethics.)

He was tired of paying $150 extra for the pooch and he had discovered that all you need is a letter from a psychiatrist to say you must have your dog with you and the airline has to let you take him on, for free. (If you don’t have a letter, you can answer a few questions online and pay for one.)

Then, a new neighbor moved in to our pet-friendly apartment building. He had two tiny dogs, “This one is certified for anxiety,” he told me one morning. “This one I’m training so I don’t have to leave him at home.” What he didn’t say is that landlords have to allow service dogs into a building, even if dogs aren’t typically welcome, and they can’t charge pet rent.

Thus began my interest in the Modern Service Dog Conundrum.

The good news: Dogs (and other animals) are being deployed to help people with a wider range of medical concerns than ever before.

(L) Lauren Henderson displays her service dog's certification. (R) This sign at the LA Public Library makes it clear: Only service dogs allowed.

(L) Lauren Henderson displays her service dog’s certification. (R) This sign at the LA Public Library makes it clear: Only service dogs allowed.

The confusing news: Not all of them have the rights of service dogs, like the highly trained dogs who aid the sight-impaired.

The bad (and not surprising) news: People are taking advantage of the system. They’re aided and abetted by a phalanx of confusing rules, pet-owners’ willingness to cheat the system and privacy laws that prohibit businesses from asking too many questions. In California, it’s a misdemeanor to fake a service dog, punishable with prison or a fine or both.

One group, Canine Companions for Independence, has an online petition they plan to take to Washington to see if the rules and regulations can get sorted out. LA resident Lauren Henderson is even making a documentary about her life with a service dog to try to show people what it means to need and love a service animal. I spoke with her and others about why there’s so much confusion in this story:

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  • Celena Harrington

    CERTIFIED service dogs or mini ponies are NOT the same as REGISTERED companion animals. ADA states only CERTIFIED service are exempt from pet rules, and should be easily be identified by vest and on rigid leash.

    • sable

      I am sorry but per ADA laws there is not a certification for service dogs or regerstation about 90% of all dog are trained by there owners and the only dogs that is REQUIRED to have a certified trainer is a guide dog thats why the laws are so saddly taken advantaged of so often I have to defend my rights all the time against the public that only know the false laws

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  • Nadine Crockett

    I live in a "No Pets" allowed retirement park. I love dogs. My favorite was a black lab named Mac who lived to be 14. It was a very sad time for me when he died, and I would love to have a dog here. My Doctor has told me because I am being treated for depression he would write a letter saying I should have one as a service dog. I will not do that, but there are several people in the park who have done just that. Fortunately, I have a granddog up in NY State I can go to visit once in a while. (Of course I go there to see my grandsons too)! My daughter has raised three service dogs, and I hope they are going to someone who really needs them.

    • Dustina

      Hey Nadine, I am blind and I have a Guide Dog. I actually see no problem with you having a service dog being that your Psychiatrist is willing to write a letter to that effect. Also, if you have anything like High Blood pressure it has been proven that dogs lower the blood pressure. If you qualify…then get it. It is the one's that do not qualify that are a problem. A true Service Dog is usually very well behaved no matter where you take it which usually sets aside the real from the fake….but not always the case, but most of the time…is. Get your trained Service Dog. You deserve it!

  • Sara Hardy

    I think there should be a law that says service dogs must wear special pet tags that identify them as such. You could make them be a special shape or a odd color. Something that stands out so business owners could look and see it and know that they don't need to question the patron. I think some (not all) people abuse the term "service dog".

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    I have heard of this too. There is a need for service dogs, animals can be a great benefit to people. Unfortunately, like you pointed out in this article there are some people who take advantage of the current rules which makes you wonder what is legitimate and what's not.

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