You either know someone who has faked having an emotional support animal, therapy, or service dog or you’ve probably heard stories. For instance, the girl who was attacked by a fake ESA or the poop incident that caused an emergency plane landing.
The US Department of Transportation recently proposed new rules that would limit which service animals qualify to fly onboard with their owners. This is a major step in the right direction for animal advocacy and people with disabilities who legitimately rely on their animals to assist with everyday tasks. The policy proposal has grabbed the attention of major outlets including the New York Times and PBS, among others.
Our opinion: it’s never a good idea to pretend your animal is qualified for something they are not. Here’s why you should never fake having a service dog.
What is a ‘Service’ Dog?
When it comes to animals who help humans with their day-to-day lives, most fall under the umbrella of service animals. There are also therapy dogs and emotional support animals, which do not have the same rights as service dogs. The three delineations are:
- Service Dogs | A service dog is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. (NSARCO)
- Therapy Dogs | Therapy dogs are specially trained to provide affection and comfort to people in nursing homes, disaster areas, schools, hospitals, retirement homes, and for people with autism. Therapy dogs have no protected rights.
- Emotional Support Animals | AKA “ESAs”, these dogs help owners who suffer from a mental or emotional disability. Registering your pet as an Emotional Support Animal is extremely easy, and nearly all domestic pets qualify.
Service Dogs by far have the most privilege of all the certifications. These dogs get access to most public places, surpass landlord rules, and most importantly, they can fly in the main cabin of planes. The only other type of dog certification generally allowed on airplanes, up until now, has been Emotional Support Animals.
Meanwhile, unless your pet can fit beneath your feet, they’ll probably be flying cargo.
Transporting your dog as a “checked pet” (in other words, flying cargo) can be a traumatizing experience for sure. Getting doggo registered as an ESA is an easy and fairly inexpensive process. While there are legitimate uses for this certification, the truth is, many people abuse it for their own benefit.
Who you’re hurting
When you fake a service dog, you’re diminishing the social value of the certification. Pretending your dog is a service dog is also an insult to the dogs who actually go through the training process which can be as long as two years. Service dogs provide a real need required by thousands of civilians, and faking the certification makes it less available to those who need it.
What you can do
Dogs are sweet and loving by nature. However, they are not necessarily prepared to react if things go awry the way trained service dogs are. Rather than faking your dog’s certification, you can seek out a real service dog training program and get your dog certified. Dogs love “working” and are quick learners with the right guidance. You might just be surprised at what your dog is actually capable of learning, and there will be nothing phony about it.
If you’re concerned about traveling with your dog, another option to consider is boarding them. You can have your vacation, and your dog can have their own. If you’re considering bringing your dog along on your next big trip, you’ll definitely want to make sure you’ve weighed all your options.
When our dogs can do their jobs confidently with respected certifications, we all win. Please use these certification programs responsibly, for the sake of dogs and humans everywhere.