Americans love their pets, and it’s no surprise that the most common pet is dogs, with cats coming in second. These animals provide a certain comfort for many of us. With that being said, there has been an increase in service animals, which can be seen in many states today; but are they really all service animals or is that term being abused by the pets’ owners? After taking notice recently, I’ve come to the realization that the terminology of a service pet undoubtedly is being exaggerated by some pet owners. An example being… last month, as I boarded an aircraft I couldn’t help notice that 3 different animals were also boarding; without kennels. Undeniably… the worrisome expressions by passengers and flight attendants became obvious when a large cat boarded with only a leash and its’ owner. After the attendants questioned the gate agent, they were told that it was a therapy animal, but with no papers to validate that statement. Only 1 out of the 2 dogs had the correct documentation for being a service animal. Now I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time believing that many animals being taken into public places such as movie theaters, restaurants and using transportation services (taxis, trains and aircraft), even have proper docs to support their owners’ statements. So I became curious and had to check this out. The service animal is undeniably different than the therapy one, not-to-mention the current laws to substantiate this. You can define the difference online at; The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

State Laws do vary when it comes to service animals, but the title is defined the same; to have a service animal means any dog individually trained to do work and perform tasks for the benefit of the individual with disabilities including physical, sensory, psychiatric, or other mental disability. When referring to therapy, it is clearly stated that an emotional support animal, comfort animal and… or …therapy dogs are NOT service animals under Title 11 and Title 111 of the ADA. Also, it doesn’t matter that the person (animals owner) gets a doctors letter stating that they have a disability and that they ‘need’ the animal for emotional support; no doctor can turn your animal into a service animal. Believe it or not, I am seeing this done in retirement communities as well as other places… with mildly disabled young adults in the public sector. Recently at a mall I spotted a young woman on a cell phone (imagine that) but had her large dog on a leash with a service coat on, however it was clear that the dog was NOT trained in any matter, because it was high strung, anxious, barking and looming at people passing by (while she bounced around on her phone like a typical young person)… this dog just wanted attention of any kind. This whole scenario continues to be all too common these days. I have seen service animals, and they are highly intelligent, trained, and do not bother other people, as they calmly sit or lie by their owners side in order to serve and protect them. There are a lot of people with needs today, and I understand why having pets is therapeutic, as I’ve felt the unconditional love and joy they bring into our lives. It’s not alright though to use this as a ploy in order to bring them in all public places, nor does the doctor have any right to determine that the animal can be used as a service one. This is a Federal Law, and just like airlines or an employer, they have a right to see valid documentation stating your disability as well as the purpose for your service animal and what type of service it provides for you. If one cannot do that, they have the right to turn you away. Eventually the rules will become stricter if people continue to abuse this system. I think employees in certain fields should know these laws so we can protect the ‘real’ disabled people who need their service animals, not allowing others to take advantage. Don’t allow these people to play on your emotions, because there are those that have their documents (including proper ID by ADA) and those that don’t. So…when in doubt, call them out!

Make your week count.