Service animals and fraud

by Abigail Witthauer, guest columnist

It’s more common today to see a service animal than ever before, but as with any good thing, some people will take advantage. Service animal fraud is simple: an able bodied individual (one who is not disabled under the Americans With Disabilities Act) takes their animal into areas where a pet dog is not normally allowed. Some may refer to this as service dog fraud as well.  But it’s not — it’s disability fraud by impersonating a disabled individual to take Fido wherever he would like to go. Think about that…impersonating a disabled individual to get something they want. It may feel more complicated than that, but it isn’t.

This is especially dangerous because Fido, while he may be a lovely dog, has not spent every day of his life preparing for public access. Service dogs are specially trained to perform specific tasks to mediate their handler’s disability. But equally as important, they are specially trained to handle the situations, noises, and events that occur in everyday life.  

A legitimate service dog thinks nothing of a thunderstorm, a child rushing and grabbing, a bumpy airline flight, or a huge truck backfiring, all because of extensive training. While it may be tempting to impersonate a disabled individual so Fido doesn’t have to stay at home, it’s vital to consider the ethics of such a decision, as well as Fido’s perspective.  Fido has not been through thousands of hours of training, and he is ill prepared to be a service dog.

Consider the ethical dilemma from both sides: the person impersonating a disabled individual is socially repugnant, but then they also put their beloved pet at an enormous risk for emotional, mental, and physical trauma. If you are tempted to go online and register your pet as a “service animal,” take pause and consider what that really means for both you and your pet.

Abigail Witthauer is the owner of Roverchase in Pelham, offering force-free, science-based dog training; dog boarding; grooming; and daycare for dogs in their 10,000-foot facility. Contact her at abigail@macandabi.com.

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