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JoAnna Lou
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Revisiting Fake Service Dogs
A growing problem which has no easy solution.

A few years ago I wrote about people passing off their pets as service dogs so they could ride in the cabin together (thus avoiding the hazards of cargo and extra fees).  Although the practice is  unethical, and makes travel harder for people with legitimate service dogs, the problem seems to only be growing.

Heated discussions crop up every time there's a national dog competition.  The latest discussion around the American Kennel Club’s Invitational event led some to call for organizations, such as the AKC and the United States Dog Agility Association, to get involved.  There's also a lot of false information floating around (like that it's a felony to pass off a pet as a service dog or that a limited number of service dogs are allowed on any given plane--both untrue).  Bottom line, it's a sensitive subject and the more I research the topic, the more I realize how complicated it is to regulate such behavior.

The biggest challenge is maintaining the privacy of those with legitimate service dogs.  The law is intentionally open ended to allow for a large and growing number of disabilities.  Most people with service dogs oppose any sort of registry because it's hard to figure out a fair and equitable way to determine criteria for eligibility.  

Tightening laws and giving businesses more leeway for questioning people causes unfair scrutiny for those with legitimate service dogs.

I think it has to come down to people having a little more respect for true service dogs and compassion for those who have no choice but to rely on these animals.

I'm also very disappointed by dog show/sport people who falsely pass of their pups as service animals.  It looks really bad when planes headed towards a big show are filled with an unusual number of “service dogs.”  I always think of dog show/sport people as being exemplars of responsible pet care and this kind of behavior casts a negative light on all exhibitors.

I understand that many people do it because it's safer for the dog to travel in the cabin, but it’s important to remember that getting to a national competition is not a necessity.  

And finally, the root cause is a lack of safe and affordable air travel options for medium to large dog breeds.  But until airlines cater to that need (which I doubt will be any time soon, if ever!), people have to consider the impact their actions have on others.

What do you think the ideal solution is to the faux service dog problem?

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by pmarkham/flickr.

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