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Service Vest Controversy
EBay listing causes anger
A listing on eBay for a vest similar to this one ignited a controversy.

No matter what you want to buy, eBay probably has it. Looking for an 1897 Pocket Kodak camera? What about a gold-plated mango fork? Or perhaps you seek a service dog vest about which the seller says, “Use this for your good puppy and take her shopping with you. May have to play blind or stupid, but you love your puppy.”

This listing, which is no longer up, angered many people. Those with disabilities or whose family members have disablities are offended by the suggestion that people should dishonestly claim that their pets are service dogs, when they are not specifically trained in that way. They are concerned about the harm this causes to people with disabilities. The legitimacy of all service animals comes into question when people try to pass off their dogs as service animals.

It can be difficult to know whether an individual dog is a service animal. There is not some simple way to identify them such as a government-issued identification card. Identification of a service animal or proof that an animal is in fact a service dog is not required in most cases, and a disabled person who is asked for proof of their animal’s qualifications or training does not have to provide it. (An exception is the airlines, which are able to request documentation or ask questions to verify that a dog is a service animal, under the Air Carrier Access Act.) If a person is asked to leave a business or denied service because they brought in a service animal, that person can file a legal complaint against the owner of the business for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act.

What do you think of the wording of the listing on eBay for a service dog vest? How do you feel about the apparently common practice of falsely claiming that a dog is a service dog?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Cindy F. | August 9 2011 |

As a therapy dog evaluator, I've had people tell me bluntly that they intend to use their therapy dog certification to confuse people into thinking they have a service dog. One woman told me that she had already ordered a vest for her dog so that she could take him into restaurants. Our organization does not allow the wearing of vests so that our dogs cannot be mistaken for service dogs. Obviously, the people who brag to me what they intend to do are not going to pass the evaluation with their dog.

I have friends who raise service dogs and I know how much serious work is involved in training these dogs. It makes me very angry that people are willing to pass off their dogs as service dogs, not realizing the damage they are doing to the true service dog organizations that provide the needed help to the disabled.

Submitted by Erin C. | August 9 2011 |

Hi Cindy - I totally agree with you. My family and I raise service dogs for Canine Companions for Independence (cci.org). We are raising our 5th puppy for CCI at this time, we also have two release dogs from the program. We bring our puppy in training with us everywhere. He has flown with us on a plane, driven cross country, visited many, many restaurants, museums, stores, events, weddings, funerals - you name it, and he goes to work with me everyday. We do this in order to desensitize the dog to new situations, and to him all these activities have become 'no big deal', which is exactly what our goal is. Not every puppy makes it through the advanced training and as soon as we receive a release dog back the cape is no more. Release dogs do not have the privilege of going with us everywhere anymore.

And that's OK.

It pains me to think that people would try to cheat their way in to bringing a dog that is not truly a service dog or a service dog in training into situations where they have not been trained to be behaved. This could actually be considered dangerous with certain types of dogs. I don't think people understand that this practice also takes away from the fact that as puppy raisers we put thousands of hours in to socializing and training these dogs to help people with REAL disabilities. It is a selfish owner who 'fakes the cape'. They are not thinking of others, only themselves.

Submitted by Dogs on the Run | August 9 2011 |

While I find it VERY unethical for someone to pose their dog as a service dog when it isn't, I think it points to a deeper problem we have in this society. I just came back from England where dogs are allowed nearly everywhere, and it was a beautiful thing! And the dogs were well socialized and well-behaved. I think those of us that have dogs want to take them with us where we go, and we are imbedded in a society that says "Dogs Not Allowed" nearly everywhere- restaurants, stores, beaches, parks, and many places where they should be allowed if they are socially appropriate and trained. So it sets up a situation where, if you want to take your dog someplace where "Dogs Not Allowed" is the rule, you wind up having to lie.

A better solution would be for us all to work to get more places to allow us to have our well-behaved dogs with us, service dogs or not.

Submitted by Misty's Mom | August 9 2011 |

I have to admit that on more than one occasion I've joked that it would be nice to have one for hotel/motel access. I travel a lot for work and at times it's difficult to find a hotel that will let us stay there without taking us to the cleaners for Misty's fee.

Submitted by Stephanie | August 11 2011 |

We sometimes joke about it too...our dog would LOVE to be a therapy dog but he likes food more, LOL. I would NEVER do anything that threatens or discredits the service dog profession.

Submitted by Reine Adelaide | August 9 2011 |

With little exception dogs/animals are considered property and have no legal rights--and globally there are virtually no exceptions. Because of our inability or lack of desire to accommodate other animals, they are the ones who suffer most because of our limitations.

As stated in the article, any dog's companion must simply state that it is a service animal. And, fortunately at this time, no "proof" is necessary, (making the vest unnecessary, a waste of money and insulting to people with disabilities). This lack of proof/legal limitations actually allows us the freedom to be accompanied and loved by beings most of us consider family. And for many of us these beings could be the extent of our family.

Perhaps people with disabilities should have the final say regarding the definition of service animals, however, EVERYONE would benefit greatly from animals having a bigger presence in society. Obviously, dogs who would otherwise be left in cars or home alone all day, would welcome the freedom. But without a doubt, OUR animal need for animal contact is undeniable, desirable and even necessary.

(And for those who do not wish to associate with certain animals; they don't have to. Even large animals can be kept well within a six foot radius of personal space. And there are already laws in place that protect people from aggressive or unleashed animals--that's nothing new.)

As to "The legitimacy of all service animals comes into question when people try to pass off their dogs as service animals" is a curious concern because if you are a person with a disability why would you assume that you may not be accompanied by your service animal? These limitations are generated by the fear of losing well established legal rights and there is no basis for that whatsoever. As a matter of fact, the more visible and accepted animals are in every facet of daily life only strengthens the status and legitimacy of ALL animal presence.

Here we have a personal freedom that brings incalculable happiness and health benefits to society and too often, especially as americans, we are ready to criticize, regulate and limit our/animals freedoms because of fear. My hope is that we all can celebrate and promote the inclusion of all animals in our human society and learn to respect that they have as much right to exist here as we do. We tend to measure fairness and legislate according to our rights when the much bigger issue is the cessation and relief of suffering for all beings.

No one will ever convince me that animals do not suffer; and suffer as greatly as we do. I believe that humans are bound by our privilege and resources to care and provide for the live's of the animals we affect so profoundly. "The measure of society is how it treats it's poor, it's wretched, those yearning to be free…"

Submitted by Adam @ LuxeMutt | August 12 2011 |

Thank you for your eloquent reply. I remember when I got my first dog, I just assumed that here in Los Angeles, an enlightened society, that I could bring her to cafes, restaurants, stores, etc. Well, the reality was we were treated rudely wherever we went and sternly ordered to leave.
My dog is my closest confidant, and now she must remain home alone, isolated and lonely because, despite this new alleged recognition that dogs are family members, we really cannot enjoy them as family once we leave our houses. I've been considering one of these vests for quite some time.

Submitted by Erin Clark | August 9 2011 |

My family and I raise service dogs for Canine Companions for Independence (cci.org). We are raising our 5th puppy for CCI at this time, we also have two release dogs from the program. We bring our puppy in training with us everywhere. He has flown with us on a plane, driven cross country, visited many, many restaurants, museums, stores, events, weddings, funerals - you name it, and he goes to work with me everyday. We do this in order to desensitize the dog to new situations, and to him all these activities have become 'no big deal', which is exactly what our goal is. Not every puppy makes it through the advanced training and as soon as we receive a release dog back the cape is no more. Release dogs do not have the privilege of going with us everywhere anymore.

And that's OK.

It pains me to think that people would try to cheat their way in to bringing a dog that is not truly a service dog or a service dog in training into situations where they have not been trained to be behaved. This could actually be considered dangerous with certain types of dogs. I don't think people understand that this practice also takes away from the fact that as puppy raisers we put thousands of hours in to socializing and training these dogs to help people with REAL disabilities. It is a selfish owner who 'fakes the cape'. They are not thinking of others, only themselves.

Submitted by N* | August 11 2011 |

Amen. I've worked in the disabilities community for 13 years & I've seen & heard a lot of things. One place I worked claimed her 10 yr. Old pittie was her service dog. I love animals, & I love Pitts- but this dog would go after people, there were other issues as well that just weren't cool. I have "hidden" disabilities, an auto-immune condition(s). I really love animals very much & know what an important role service & therapy dogs (animals) play in our lives. I also know how much love, dedication, hard work, time, skills, money, & community effort/cooperation goes into creating these amazing service animals.
For the record, I'm the "mama" of a sassy chi mix who is my heart, we go everywhere together. I know the stores I can bring her into, if not, I ask permission.
I think someone who would lie and put the vest on their dog is sad & dissappointing as a human being.

Submitted by Jennifer | August 9 2011 |

After all the hard work that people have put in for years to get service dogs accepted, it's horrible to see that others would want to undermine that just for their own convenience. I would love to take my dog everywhere but I know that she wouldn't behave in the exemplary manner of service and therapy dogs, so I am fine to leave her at home. A dear friend has a legitimate therapy dog and she's a wonderful ambassador for dogs everywhere - it's awful that people would lie and end up misrepresenting these dogs and the efforts of so many people.

Submitted by Anonymous | August 9 2011 |

I have a friend who purchased one on ebay so she could fly her dog for free. She tried to convince me that her dog 'earned' it at the pet store class. Don't insult my intelligence! I wish the airlines would make it a practice to ask for proof -- people should NOT be able to get away with such unethical behavior.

Submitted by Nancy | August 9 2011 |

I totally disagree these bags. Poeple in real needs could not have access to a place with their real dog service. Because «funny» poeple with no need abuse with this fake sign.

Submitted by W. H. Lemmer | August 11 2011 |

If you are using a vest or an identification card to portray your pet as a service animal you should be charged with a felony. I am almost finished with training my lab as a service animal. It has been a liberating experience,'working with my dog. Seeing him progress learning how to stand in position to help me to my feet providing balance for me. It has been a humbling experience as well. EBay should be ashamed. They should take measures to prohibit the abuse of service dog training

Submitted by Professional trainer | August 15 2011 |

Well, obviously the wording was inappropriate and the poster should be informed as to the seriousness and implications for the suggestion to represent a dog as an assistance dog when in fact it is not. People with disabilities who have these dogs face personal battles for the right to have these dogs accompany them in public.

As a professional trainer who works with assistance dogs and has recently trained my own, I encounter these issues on a regular basis. People actually do try to get away with taking a pet that is inadequately trained and does not function as an assistance (service)dog or meet social control requirements in public as a "service dog." Many people aso get "service dogs" confused with "therapy dogs."

Business owners need to be aware of their rights - they can ask if the animal is an assistance (service) dog and ask what tasks the dog has been specifically trained to perform to mitigate the individual's disability. They may not ask about the person's disability. A vest or ID is not required, but the dog must be under good control or the business owner may ask the handler to leave. The handler may return without the dog.

Submitted by Deborah D | August 16 2011 |

I believe that the folks who have such low ethical foundation do not deserve to have a pet masquerade as a service dog. My sentiment has increased since I started raising puppies for Summit Assistance Dogs nearly 3 years ago!

All it takes are a couple of poorly socialized pups who are not public access trained to devastate the reputation of the properly trained and certified assistance dogs. If your dog is not an UNOBTRUSIVE helper then something is not quite right...

The all-too-visible poorly trained dogs are also a serious risk to the safety and acceptance of the professional assistance dogs throughout our communities. I hate nothing more than hearing someone claim "I have my Doctor's note" as 'proof' it is a service or assistance animal.

Part of my job as a puppy raiser has been to gently educate without being harsh, overly rude or discourteous. Many people have complimented 'my' pups and wished that more of the dogs that come through their doors were half as good as the "real thing".

OK - stepping down off my soapbox now. ;-)

Submitted by Sam I Am | August 17 2011 |

I trained my own dog for a "hidden" disability. At the time he was frankly a part time alert dog and more of a convenience, so he did not wear a vest, just the harness and pack I was using to expand his ability to increase my independence. I took him only dog-friendly places, or asked permission. Surprisingly, many places like Walmart, fast food places, Starbucks, Target, etc, you simply walk up to the greeter or counter and say, "This is Sam. He alerts if I am about to have a panic attack, and is training to do x-y-z." You will be unlikely to be turned away. I never was. It was an empowering exercise, too, because I have severe social phobia.

I finally realized I needed a vest to try to stave off good natured ambushing from folks who think every dog exists to be petted. My symptoms worsened and now Sam MUST stay in position and pay attention while on duty. He meets minimum standards for full access, also, though I still consider him in training as he does not meet MY minimum standards! So I no longer approach and ask. I'm learning who challenges and who does not.

More merchants need to be educated on their own rights. They are allowed to ask what trained tasks the service dog performs for the person. They may also contact ADA to clarify access issues. I suspect if they politely ask the partners in question to wait in a comfortable place, with a beverage, and make that call, cape fakers will suddenly remember their errand at that location wasn't that urgent.

I would only bother if the dog were obviously ill trained and a potential problem for other customers.

Submitted by Megan & Caleb | August 24 2011 |

As a puppy raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind and guest blogger here at The Bark I take this issue to heart. I understand the desire to bring pets dogs into public places and there are plenty of public places that willingly accept well behaved pet dogs. Most restaurants allow dogs on patios or at outdoor tables, a number of national hotel chain are pet friendly. I am a firm believer that a service dog should be trained by an accredited school whether it be for the blind, phyisically diabled, developmentally disabled, or an alert dog. A dog in a therapy vest does not below in a grocery store, airport etc. The same can be said for owner trained service dogs, even with the best intentions, the average pet owners is not educated to train a service dog. I've run into "service dogs" that lunge at my puppy, are taking food off grocery store shelves, deficating in buildings and more. All of these actions lead government officials and local business owners with less tolerance of actual service dogs. My dog will one day be tasked with keeping a blind person safe and allowing them to maintain or gain back their independence. Misrepresenting a service dog will continue to be a problem and will ultimately end with access issues for the disabled. At the end of the day those that really need it will be at the losing end of the battle.
Everytime someone asks me where they can get a vest for their pet dog - which happens at least one a week they receive the above response.

Submitted by Virginia | August 27 2011 |

It seems this problem is becoming more rampant. I am disabled and have a service dog. I love the Renaissance Faire and she comes with me every day of every weekend for the run of Faire. Last year an employee tied a piece of fabric around her dog and "passed" her dog off as a service dog. The dog attacked my service dog, who was traumatized by the action. (I later found I could have brought charges against her, damn.) This year she again brought the "service dog" and it bit a child on the face! It should be noted that this woman is either able bodied or has a hidden disability as she walks 2 miles 3 times a day in a parade! This time charges WERE brought and the dog was taken from her.

Undeterred, the management continued to allow visibly able bodied people to bring in pets as "service dogs" (service Chihuahuas in purses??) and by the last day there were 6 untrained, disruptive dogs there. Their excuse? They were afraid if they questioned dog owners they would be sued.

Faire is a loud, crowded place with over 10,000 people, cannons going off, people yelling, dropped food on the ground, and many other things that even the best of dogs need to get used to. Many people think that just because their dog is a "good" dog, and loves people, they can take them anywhere. Dogs are easily frightened by new experiences and you can mentally "hurt" your dog by exposing them to places like this. Even the most well trained service dog would take an hour or two to acclimate themselves to this type of environment.

To those who think dogs should be able to go everywhere, this warning. If you insist your dog is a Service Dog (when it is not) and it bites someone, even if you don't think it is your dog's fault, say goodbye to your dog. The woman I mentioned may have had her dog put to sleep over this incident (I don't know the end of the story but I think she copped out and admitted it wasn't a service dog). Service Dogs go through hundreds of hours of training. Putting a vest on your dog and going into a public place begs for catastrophe. In most states your dog CAN be put down for a single bite.

It is also illegal and YOU CAN go to jail:
PC 365.7. (a) Any person who knowingly and fraudulently represents himself or herself, through verbal or written notice, to be the owner or trainer of any canine licensed as, to be qualified as, or identified as, a guide, signal, or service dog, as defined in subdivisions (d), (e), and (f) of Section 365.5 and paragraph (6) of subdivision (b) of Section 54.1 of the Civil Code, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.

(b) As used in this section, "owner" means any person who owns a guide, signal, or service dog, or who is authorized by the owner to use the guide, signal, or service dog.

Please, leave your pets at home.

Submitted by Anonymous | December 1 2011 |

just because u have an sd dog doesnt mean u own everyones dog and can tell them they cant bring their dog with them. ill bring my dog where ever the hell i want.

Submitted by Anonymous | October 24 2012 |

that is irresposible and agree for the most part.
but not all disabilities are physical.
people get therapy dogs too

Submitted by Party Aguirre | August 13 2013 |

It doesn't become a fake serviced dog vest until it is put on a fake service dog. If Internet sales of service dog vests are banned, where does the owner trainer purchase a vest? ADA is clear regarding owner trained service dogs. Instead of restricting a free market, enforce existing laws prohibiting fake service dogs. Educate the public on the right to have a dog removed that is disruptive, aggressive, or not housebroken.

I am a owner trainer. My dog has been privately professionally trained. There is a shortage of program dogs

I want easy access to products on the Internet. I don't want to carry a disabled ID card.

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