Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Under the vest: Exposing the danger of fake service dogs

Rachel Choi
Illustration Rachel Choi

Opinion editors are not responsible for agreeing or disagreeing with their writers but rather elevate each individual’s specific voice. 

Victor Hurtado, a former army member, was waiting for a connecting flight when a brown poodle, a posed service dog, lunged at him unwarranted with its teeth baring and ready to bite. Thankfully, Hurtado was saved by Holly, his service dog, who was trained to react in dangerous situations. However, Holly then temporarily left Hurtado because she was shaken by the incident and unable to perform her duties. 

Hurtado’s story is only one of many where people fake their animals being service dogs to take them places where they are generally not allowed, such as restaurants, planes, and other establishments with no-animal policies. 

Especially with the growing awareness of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which restricts businesses from requesting proof that their animal is a legitimate service dog, it is incredibly easy for people to pretend their dog is a service animal. However, what people don’t understand or take into consideration is just how dangerous undermining this system is to people surrounding them, those who truly require a service dog, and the industry itself.  

Service animals, which are legally specifically dogs, are properly trained to help aid people with physical or psychological impairments and disabilities. They are taught certain social skills to reinforce that they are working dogs. 

According to the National Service Animal Registry, “Note that they have special training—not just to help the person they work for in essential tasks, but to behave in a certain way in public to be unobtrusive. For example: no barking, no begging, and most definitely no growling or other form of aggression towards others. These are working animals.” 

The service animal industry invests hundreds of thousands of dollars for dogs to be properly trained to assist individuals. Thus, when people repeatedly pose their improperly trained dog as a certified service animal and then proceed to exhibit disruptive or even aggressive behavior, it is extremely compromising to the legitimacy of this industry. 

During an interview with Ali Wunderman, a travel journalist, Hurtado said, “It breaks my heart, really, I feel like they think our [service] animals are a joke.”

Amanda Morris, a disability reporter for The Washington Post, wrote an article detailing Elizabeth Schoen, a 21-year-old legally blind woman, and her experience of being recently denied by airline attendants to bring her guide dog, Eva, onto the plane. As a result of the repeated unpleasant experiences on airplanes with untrained dogs such as barking or even biting, workers will deny legitimate service dogs from boarding the plane, although being required to make all efforts that both parties can board. 

During an interview with Morris, Schoen said, “It’s made me more scared. Every time I go to the airport, it’s like, ‘Are they going to stop me?’ Even if I know I’m approved, I still feel this pressure, like I’m under a microscope.” 

People like Schoen, who were once guaranteed the privilege of airlines accommodating their needs and allowing service dogs to board the planes, are now being punished for others’ naivety. Schoen physically cannot navigate the airport without the aid of Eva, who helps her find elevators, follow the crowds to baggage claim, and avoid obstacles. So for her to be denied the security of having Eva must not only be incredibly frustrating but also worrisome of how many other establishments might begin to restrict the entrance of service dogs due to unpleasant experiences. 

It is important to remember that these untrained dogs traumatize both people and genuine service dogs. In Morris’s article, she interviews Donald Overton Jr., executive director of the Blinded Veterans Association, about his past service dog, Pierce, who was repeatedly attacked by untrained pets on planes and in airports, and he became too overly anxious to qualify as a service dog. 

“In the blink of an eye, somebody who has just casually and carelessly decided that their pet should be out there can take all of that and destroy [the psyche of a genuine service dog] it,” Overton said.

People need to realize that purchasing a fake service dog vest and strapping it to their dog’s body is not a victimless crime. By doing this, it hurts everyone who is discriminated against for owning a certified service dog and further intensifies their difficulties. People are undermining a system set in place for those with physical or psychological restrictions and disabilities to have stability and security, not for those who want the perks of traveling with their dogs.

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