Both physical and mental health disabilities are real and deserve an open conversation. Many people around the world face symptoms that limit their daily functionality. No competition or scale of severity exists which puts one’s mental health struggles above another, though some believe there is. Every single person deserves a voice, needs support, and should have options. Service Dogs are amazing assets and companions to many. Psychiatric Service Dogs have proven to be tremendously advantageous in managing a wide variety of mental health disabilities. We recommend them, we advocate for them, and we want you to know why you should never fake a Service Dog.
The American’s with Disabilities Act offers clear definitions and protections for those who are in need. Our company firmly believes in the benefits and even the necessity of Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs. We also believe in following the rules which allow these legalities to actively benefit the disabled.
HOW CAN YOU TELL?
Unlike physical disabilities, mental health challenges are often invisible to the naked eye. This detail can create loopholes in ADA compliance, which some less truthful people might exploit.
The ADA states that in situations where it’s not apparent a dog is a working service animal, you may only be asked two distinct questions. Those questions are: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? And (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Proof by documentation, task demonstration, or disclosure of particular mental health status cannot be required of the disabled for any reason. The ADA also does not require service animals to wear a vest, specific harness, or other identifying accessories. These strict regulations set in place to protect the rights of those with a disability can put businesses in a tricky situation. Public establishments are usually cautious as they don’t want a lawsuit on their hands! They often concede to allowing the dog on the premises, even if the legitimacy of the animal’s status seems questionable.
HARM TO THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE
Faking a service dog not only complicates things for those with legitimate disabilities, but it can also be damaging for many industries. Take restaurants, for example. Imagine an owner letting a fake service dog dine with the general public. If the animal is untrained for this sort of social setting, it might bark, whimper, whine, eat from the table, become aggressive, or even relieve itself inappropriately. These behaviors would be concerning and annoying to other customers and could deter them from staying or returning in the future. This example could be the case for the retail and hospitality industries as well.
Service Dogs need only be trained to mitigate one life-altering effect of any given disability. These tasks can range in complexity depending on a handler’s specific need(s). Every Service Dog, however, must be obedience trained to behave competently in public places. Your dog’s ability to respond to basic discernable commands is essential for your own safety, the well-being of your animal, and the protection of others around you. Service Dog or not, owners are always responsible for the care and behavior of their animal companions.
If your animal conducts itself in an offensive or harmful manner, allegations might come to haunt you. If dishonesty can be proven, you will indeed be held liable. As of 2018, there were 23 states with official laws against faking a Service Dog. The consequences for breaking these laws vary from state to state. For instance, in California, it is a violation to intentionally falsify that you are the owner or trainer of a service animal. One could face up to six months jail time and/or a fine of up to $1,000. In Texas, if your dog is not a service animal yet is wearing an identifying harness or ID tag which visually paints them as a service animal, a misdemeanor could be charged along with fines up to $300 and 30 hours of community service.
A few states also have laws against pretending that you are a disabled person entitled to the accompaniment of a Service Dog or assistance animal. If your state has implemented these types of legislations, you could also get in trouble for keeping an Emotional Support Animal in your rental housing without a documented disability. Under the FHA, you must have a disability to request reasonable accommodations regardless of “no pet” policies, pet restrictions, deposits, or fees. If you lie about having a disability, there is a real and reasonable chance that you could face an unpleasant lawsuit.
American Service Pets takes these regulations very seriously. We work closely with a network of legitimate, licensed healthcare professionals across the nation. Our doctors perform a thorough review of each individual’s case to ensure that the proper qualifications are met. We understand that mental challenges come in many forms. We also understand that not every person has financial or logistical access to a regular physician. Our goal is to provide stress-free and valid help to those in genuine need of an ESA or PSD due to mental health disabilities.
There are some “rumors” floating around that often deter folks from seeking the assistance of a Service Dog or prevent them from having the confidence to utilize that assistance.
One that stands out on the list is the idea that obtaining and training a Service Dog costs thousands of dollars. While you certainly CAN drop a decent dime on acquiring pure-bred animals and professional trainers, The ADA clearly states that it is unnecessary to do so. Some disabilities understandably require more intensive training than others, but legally speaking, all Service Dogs can be owner trained. There are plenty of online training manuals, videos, books, and communities that can assist with your dog’s obedience and task training. Because we believe so strongly in equipping ALL individuals with the tools they need, we also include an introductory training guide with our Psychiatric Service Dog packages. It takes time and patience to get your canine up to par, but the rewards will undoubtedly be worth the efforts. Learn more about tasks that Psychiatric Service Dogs can be trained to perform here.
Another misunderstood detail is that of Service Dog letters and/or certifications. The ADA makes note that official paperwork is not required to authenticate your Service Dog. While this is true, there are many benefits to possessing documentation of your dog’s working relationship related to your disability. It can be very stressful and frustrating to have your credibility questioned, whether outwardly spoken or otherwise implied. Even if your dog impeccably behaves, there will always be suspicious nay-sayers among us. Furnishing folks with paperwork, IDs, and certification sites or numbers can significantly help ease the discomforts associated with speculation. Nobody is allowed to ask for those things, and it’s not required to have them. Still, the hotel’s front desk staff, the restaurant manager, or perhaps the disgruntled airline employee will be less likely to give you attitude or pushback if you have some distinguishing proof of your animal’s Service Dog validity. Also, to be protected under the ADA, an individual must have an actual physical or mental health disability. That disability is documented within the body of a Psychiatric Service Dog letter and backed by a verifiable doctor’s signature and license number.
Mental health matters. Protections for those who deal with psychiatric disabilities are in place to support them in coping with many debilitating symptoms. I think we can agree that those protections should not be tampered with. It is never a good idea to neglect systems and procedures when it comes to Service Dogs or Emotional Support Animals. Though regulations seem to tighten with each passing year, we are confident that playing by the rules will ensure the continued preservation of rights for the disabled. A world without the recognizable existence of and equal access to Service Dogs would be a sad one indeed. If you need assistance, have questions, or are ready for the next step, we are here to help.