Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Is this a fake service dog? It's hard to say.

Service dog fraud—the deliberate passing off of an untrained pet as a true assistance dog, often with fake vests and credentials purchased from unscrupulous online merchants—is a growing problem. Some states make it a Class A or C misdemeanor.

Sometimes, however, fraud can be hard to determine.

At dinner on our train trip last week with Trooper, we shared a table with a woman who declared that she knew all about service dogs. (Trooper lay under the table and minded his own business.)

The woman said she had a good friend who is blind in one eye and impaired in the other. The friend has a service dog, she said, that helps her walk in a straight line and provides depth perception, especially in going upstairs. She just follows the dog with her limited vision.

Is that so? we said. What task has the dog been trained to perform?

Oh, the lady said, the dog isn’t trained. The friend just watches the dog as it trots ahead.

What breed of dog is it? we asked.

A Yorkshire terrier, she said.

Not wishing to seem unpleasant, we didn’t point out that according to the Justice Department’s guidelines, a genuine service dog is specifically trained to perform a particular task or tasks. Italics mine.

Maybe the Yorkie’s owner thinks the dog is actually providing a service just by trotting ahead of her. Possibly she thinks that makes Fluffy legally a service dog. The Yorkie’s mistress, the woman on the train said, takes it into public places such as restaurants and announces that it is a service dog. 

Is she committing fraud? Maybe she doesn’t believe so and honestly thinks her pooch is a true service animal. In which case she may be deluded.

On the other hand, Yorkies are intelligent and highly trainable, and some have become certified hearing dogs. Maybe that one somehow picked up on its owner’s particular need.

On the other other hand, unless it is trained to heel at the owner’s side, no dog I have ever known trots ahead in a straight line on the sidewalk. Its path tends to diverge willy-nilly from fencepost to flowerbed as it follows its nose.

Does this case fall into a gray area? Possibly, if one is charitable about the “trained to perform” requirement.

I just don’t know what to think. I just wish I could see this dog in action.

1 comment:

  1. Henry,
    I've heard that it has been a minor problem for Amtrak--that is, people claiming dogs and cats, ordinary pets, are service animals. On board personnel back off at that point, not wanting the risk challenging what may, in fact, be a legitimate situation. But they have some bizarre stories of what were almost certainly attempts by passengers to bring good ol' Fido along for the ride.