As a guide dog owner for some 20 years or more I was surprised to come across this post about service dogs in the USA, (http://aopinionatedman.com/2015/02/07/service-dogs/). In it Opinionated Man questions whether all the dogs described as “service dogs” are, in fact the genuine article. He states his dislike of having an animal sitting in close proximity while eating in a restaurant. In the comments following on from the post a number of people contend that they have seen dogs in shops which, they say where not service animals. In short, according to the post the law as to which constitutes a “service dog” in the USA is lax and/or not properly enforced.
One respondent does, however confirm my understanding of the situation in the USA, namely that federal legislation (The Americans With Disabilities Act) mandates that “service dogs” (known in the UK as “Assistance Dogs”) must be permitted access to food and other premises when accompanied by their owner.
I have no way of knowing whether there exists a big “service dog” scam in the USA with people passing off their pet fido as a well trained “service dog”. If there does indeed exist such a scam then it should be jumped on from a great height by the authorities as those offering fake “service animals” are bringing properly trained guide and other assistance animals into disrepute. However my experience as a guide dog owner in the UK is very different from that portrayed in the above mentioned post. Here the Equalities Act states that guide and other assistance dogs must be permitted entry, when accompanied by their owner to food premises such as restaurants. A guide dog is essential to the blind person’s mobility/independence and the Act recognises this by construing refusal to admit assistance dogs as discrimination. Other than one particularly poor joke I have never come across evidence of non assistance dogs being passed off as properly trained working animals. If this where to happen it would be a clear breech of the law and those perpetrating the scam would be liable to prosecution.
The problem in the UK revolves around service providers such as taxi firms and restaurants breaking the law by refusing entry to owners accompanied by their assistance dogs. It does not concern people trying to pass off their pet pooch as a genuine assistance dog. I know because I have been on the receiving end of such refusals on numerous occasions, (for the most recent example which entails a taxi firm refusing to convey me with my guide dog Trigger please see http://newauthoronline.com/2014/12/09/discrimination-by-taxi-driver-who-refused-to-convey-me-with-my-guide-dog-trigger/). Sadly I am far from being unique. Speaking to the Guide Dogs For The Blind Association (the UK charity which trains guide dogs) and to fellow guide dog owners, I hear stories of refusals of entry by restaurants and other premises together with instances of taxi firms refusing to convey owners accompanied by their very highly trained guide dogs).
Refusal to admit assistance dogs has the effect of preventing their owner from accessing services which others take for granted. It is treating people who rely on their assistance animals as second class citizens and it is wholly unacceptable.
In conclusion I understand the concern regarding any old mut being passed off as a service dog and/or assistance dog. However the problem of scams pails into insignificance when compared to the discrimination faced by disabled assistance dog owners. We must not allow genuine concerns about service dog scams to blind us to the real problem, that of discrimination.