The Big Fat Lie of the Little Red Vest: The Use and Abuse of Service Dog Paraphernalia
His lip suddenly raised. Alerted, I moved my hand as quickly as I could.
But not fast enough.
The chubby little Chihauhua, wearing a bright red Service Dog vest, was as fast as a rattlesnake. He opened up one hell of a bite on my right hand.
I bled profusely onto the floor of the Golden VA clinic here in Colorado. I’m a hemophiliac, so this kind of thing can be a problem.
The owner, an elderly bearded man, presumably a veteran, did nothing.
I had done precisely what you’re supposed to do. Approached carefully. Asked permission. Did everything the man told me to do to make the dog feel safe.
And got a bad bite in the process.
This was no service dog.
Two hours later, after the nursing staff took care of me, we had another story. My VA nurse Harvey had his own nearly-white, two-year old Lab. That dog, and Harvey, had undergone some 40 weeks of ADA training. That sweet pup licked my face as I endured the very painful cleaning of the bite.
Harvey had gone downstairs to see the man. Asked to pet the dog. Nearly got himself bitten.
That’s a pattern. That’s also a dangerous dog, for any child who rushes up to it and wants to pet it.
This is an horrific abuse of the system which is designed to provide support for my fellow vets and those with REAL disabilities.
I have a few disabilities myself but I don’t qualify for a service dog. How I wish.
I do support, with my heart and soul, those who need them. Those who do the work and put in the time to get the training so that said dogs are safe for the rest of us.
It’s not just people who get hurt. Some have had to retire a $50,000 service dog because a fake one attacked it (https://www.apnews.com/1a28f8e528424fdca2040ea8139e3014).
That is unconscionable. The owners of such untrained, fake service animals should be jailed. Not only did they cause harm, they caused a hugely valuable animal to have to be retired well before it should have been. Imagine how that dog’s owner felt about it.
To me that is a felony offense.
With luck it will become a Federal one.
Elsewhere on Medium I have written about this issue (https://medium.com/@jhubbel/dont-touch-my-dog-30053746f5cb). It makes me madder than hell- and I don’t give a flying fuck if the man IS a fellow veteran- when someone’s supreme self-absorption and self-interest outweighs public safety.
His dog bites. PERIOD. He was asked to leave the facility. The VA retrained their staff. I lost half a day and had to spend the next week waiting for potential indications of infection or disease. Who knows if his damned dog has its shots?
So far, so good.
Since I write for a living, that bite crippled my hand for a nearly a week. I also couldn’t work out, which is part of my everyday life. Can’t lift when you’ve got a big hole in your hand.
Now that my hand has gotten better, this is now a rant. Because I am a statistic in a growing body of evidence that this problem is simply Out.Of. (bitten) Hand.
I work with animals all over the world. Been bitten only twice. Nearly lost my eye to an untrained boxer when I was barely five (to my point about curious kids). Since then, this was the worst bite I’ve ever had- BY A DOG WEARING A FAKE SERVICE DOG VEST.
That vest signals safety in precisley the same way an official uniform of any kind telegraphs earned training and professionalism. That vest tells you and me and our children that the dog has undergone extensive training. It is, in a reasoned society, a signal that the dog knows how to behave. Is in fact a professional. Or, the vest says DO NOT PET. That means that YOU have to behave, as well as control your kids out of respect for the owner. That dog is not there for you. It is on alert for mom or dad or kid or gamma or gramps who has a very real need that has been legitimized. For which that dog is carefully, painstakingly trained.
If you or anyone else just buys some fake vest on Amazon, and convinces some asshole doctor that poor little you can’t survive without Fluffy, then you are a LIAR. A CHEAT. An ABUSER.
Because like that veteran at the VA Clinic, you are endangering others. It’s not just that folks have allergies to pet dander. It’s that your dog is unpredictable- you do not know how that animal is going to behave in a high-stress situation.
All animals- including humans- revert to their basic fight or flight instincts when they feel endangered.
There is no way to know how an untrained animal is going to respond to other animals, kids, or perceived threats. You will never ever know your dog well enough unless it has undergone months of training, and YOU have undergone months of training to learn how to handle that dog in any situation. That’s why those vests are earned.
Harvey and his dog have earned it.
I am in your face for a reason: I love animals. I work with them. They are huge part of my life. As a result, I care much more about them than I care about the cheats who abuse the system. And I care deeply about those who are legitimately disabled who pay dearly for their dogs or mini-horses, and who are at risk because of an abuser.
No animal should have to pay with his life for your selfishness. For putting that animal -who trusts you- in a situation that scares him so much he bites out of fear. That’s not his fault. That. Is. YOURS .
I liken this behavior to the way that some smokers could give a shit about how their cigarettes can cause lung cancer in others through second hand smoke. How some cigar smokers love it when they can clear a room from the stench of their smoking mouth-dicks. It’s the same thing. Selfish, dangerous MEMEMEMEME behavior.
There are only rare occasions when a legitimate animal qualifies for an emotional support animal. That you aren’t able to make friends isn’t one of them. That you are socially inept (WE ALL ARE IN SOME WAY OR ANOTHER SO JOIN THE GODDAMNED CLUB) isn’t one of them. That you wanna feel special and want special treatment isn’t one of them. That you don’t wanna leave Fluffy with a dog sitter isn’t one of them.
I adore animals. I’d love to have a dog again. However my lifestyle doesn’t support it. As a result, I don’t have a pet. That’s responsible. It’s NOT responsible to own an animal you are not willing to train, to have an animal that is dangerous to others, and to impose your emotional insecurity on others with an untrained, dangerous creature.
This isn’t the Chihuahua’s fault. The dog is just himself. He doesn’t tolerate strangers. Clearly his owner doesn’t either but that’s HIS problem. He made it mine, the VA’s and everyone else in the clinic. He’s lucky he didn’t lose his dog. That dog could be put down for no other reason than his owner’s childish stupidity and selfishness.
Harvey, the nurse who cleaned my wound, did the work. His dog is a well-trained, two-year-old angel. That only happens when you qualify, when you commit, and you understand and respect the responsibilities that a service dog entails.
After this dog bite, I no longer trust the service vest. When I see one now, the first question that leaps to mind is whether the owner is a fake. The problem is profilerating beyond any reasonable bounds. Just walk through DIA now. It’s pups on parade. What’s even more unreasonable is that it’s against the law to challenge an owner.
Ask me, with my recently-ripped hand, just exactly how I feel about THAT right now?
It’s only going to take one kid whose face is removed by a Rottie wearing a red service vest to make it nearly impossible to qualify for proper credentials. It will happen. It’s only a matter of time. It’s hard enough now for people with legitimate disabilities and needs to get their animals and training. Once that system is abused too many times, the ante will be further raised.
Then, those of my veteran (and other) disabled peeps will have an even harder time getting the care they need and deserve.
Because of selfish, childish people who want to game the system.
I’ll heal. Happily, the bite happened in a medical clinic.
Someone soon is not going to be so lucky.
Because of people like this vet, there are big changes a-(four)foot already: https://www.outsideonline.com/2313991/flying-your-fake-service-dog-may-be-over). Some laws have already been passed. Enough bites, attacks, disfigurements and the rest, and it’s going to be over for the bottom feeding cottage industry that enables the emotionally-inept to drag their dog any damned place they want, hurl their self-righteous threats of lawsuits at hapless counter people and rip the shit out of the real working dogs that are lying quietly, responsibly under their owner’s wheelchairs.
Here’s an example of how some states are handling it:https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/penalties-for-using-a-service-dog-or-emotional-support-animal-under-false-pretenses.html
From this article:
The penalties for violating these laws vary. In California, for instance, it is a misdemeanor to falsely and knowingly claim that you are the owner or trainer of a service animal. The crime is punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. In New Jersey, you can be fined from $100 to $500 for putting your dog in a guide dog harness to falsely pass it off as a guide dog. In Texas, outfitting your dog as a service animal (when it is not) is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $300 and 30 hours of community service.
A handful of states also make it a crime to pretend that you are a person with a disability who is entitled to have a service animal or assistance dog with you. If your state makes it illegal to impersonate or pretend to be a person with a disability, you might get into trouble over keeping an emotional support animal. To have an emotional support animal in rental housing, under the federal Fair Housing Act, you must have a disability. (Likewise, to bring an emotional support animal on a plane, under the Air Carrier Access Act, you must have a disability.) If you lie about having a disability in order to keep your animal, you could run afoul of this type of state law.
Here’s what’s happening in my state: https://www.thedailybeast.com/finally-colorado-is-cracking-down-on-service-dog-fraud
The fact that we have to legislate stupidity, selfishness and arrogance is a statement about our society. Here’s another rich example in another field: years ago when I was getting my pilot’s license in Australia, I asked why dual-seat training was so expensive (everyone was learning the Gemini Thruster or similar, like the one I flew). The story goes that a guy in America (of course) was puddle-jumping his Cessna 150 cross-country. Ran out of gas. Crashed. Survived. Sued Cessna, and won. His argument?
That the handbook didn’t say that you had to put gas in the fucking airplane engine.
Because of that kind of stupidity, costs of insurance skyrocketed. Soon Cessna 152s, the perfect plane for students like me, are too expensive. Because..
That the lawyer won and the jury agreed is an even worse statement about our society.
Got a fake service dog? Your days are numbered. It can’t come too soon. I am sorry that you’ve got problems. I am sorry that you feel entitled. However, you do not have the right to endanger anyone else. If you are truly disabled, do the work. Get the dog. Get the months of training.
I’ll be happy to sit next to your properly trained service animal on the plane. Outside that, Billy Bob or Billy Barbara,