Really? Your overweight, whiny beagle is a service animal?

03. February 2016 All About Children 10


The question

This is not earth-shattering, but occurred today at the hairdresser. A woman showed up with her dog. The hairdresser told her there is a no-dog policy. The client’s response: “It’s a service dog.” The dog was an overweight beagle, which proceeded to whine and bark throughout the woman’s stay. He had no harness or ID as a service dog. I am a nurse and am aware of “invisible” health issues … fair enough. But I am also aware that service dogs are well-trained, patient animals. To me, the abuse of this system is akin to the misuse of disability signs in cars. How would you suggest dealing with such a situation in the future? I wanted to point the error of her ways out to her, but decided to stay out of it.

The answer

I try to be as “humorous” as I can in this column, but don’t normally tell jokes. Please indulge me this time, though, because your question reminds me of one of my all-time favourites:

Three guys are walking their dogs on a hot summer afternoon. Two have German shepherds, one a chihuahua. The guys are wearing sunglasses because it’s so bright out. They stop in front of a bar.

First guy: “You know what’d be nice? An ice-cold beer.”

Second guy: “But they won’t let us in with our dogs. And I don’t want to leave them outside.”

Third guy: “I have an idea. Let’s pretend we’re blind, and these are our service dogs. Then they have to let us in!”

So they go in, wearing their sunglasses, acting blind, groping their way to the bar, and so on – and order beers. As he serves them, the bartender eyeballs them suspiciously.

“Okay, I believe you guys with the German shepherds,” he says to the first two, handing them beers. To the third he says: “But you expect me to believe your seeing-eye dog is a chihuahua?”

“Aw, man,” the third guy says, “they gave me a chihuahua?”

To me that’s funny – but I don’t want to be guilty of insensitivity here.

As part of my plan to become a more thoughtful and soulful individual, I’ve been trying to exude, exhibit and express compassion when it comes to the phenomenon of service pets and “emotional support animals.”

An emotional support animal is defined as “a person’s pet that has been prescribed by a person’s licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist … [as] part of the treatment program for this person and is designed to bring comfort and minimize the negative symptoms of the person’s emotional/psychological disability.”

Service dogs have done amazing things for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Men and women who previously couldn’t go to the movies (in the dark, with the whispering, they fear being attacked), couldn’t sleep, were emotionally numb and so on from the after-effects of battle are assigned a “service dog” and slowly start coming out of their shell-shocked selves. It’s a fairly recent phenomenon and it was an uphill battle making it legit.

Service dogs also really brighten up the days of senior citizens, people in hospitals – anyone, in fact, who could use a little love. And it’s not just dogs: Cats can be emotional support animals, so can ferrets, hedgehogs, rats, snakes, birds and even fish. Playing with dolphins apparently does wonders for people with autism. But I had to laugh and think maybe it’s gone too far when news surfaced recently of an “emotional support turkey” in the passenger cabin of an airline flight. At first I thought it was a joke, some kind of Photoshop prank. But, no, it was real: Apparently the airline had to let it on or face a fine up to $150,000 or a lawsuit. (P.S. I forgot to mention, in case you were wondering, the turkey was wearing a special custom-made diaper.)

At which point I’d say we’ve drifted into the arena of the absurd: You can’t live without your turkey for the few hours it takes to fly somewhere?

(Normally service dogs are allowed in the passenger cabin, but other animals must go below.)

It’s like a Monty Python sketch – British accent: “How dare you question my turkey, sir! This turkey must accompany me everywhere. I’ve got a note from my psychiatrist!”

And what about how it affects other people? Hey, I paid for my flight, too. Suddenly I have to sit next to some dude’s turkey? It’d probably be eyeballing my peanuts the whole time, and/or gobbling so loudly I wouldn’t be able to hear the dialogue of my movie.

Over all, though, emotional support animals have done so much good in this world, it’s extra-galling when someone tries to pass off a fake. In your case, I think the hairdresser is well within her rights to ask for some sort of documentation/verification of the beagle’s “service” status.

And in your sensible nurse’s shoes, I would encourage her to do so. If this woman’s beagle’s papers are in order, there’s not much you or your hairdresser can do (though I know of people who’ve faked these credentials – have extracted bogus prescriptions from obviously dodgy doctors so they could bring their precious pooches into the passenger area of planes), except show compassion for whatever invisible health issue this woman has.

If not? Bzzt: “No dogs allowed.” After all – well, I cut my own hair, but I’ve heard it said by more than one woman that the hairdresser’s is a place of sanctuary, of unburdening, of communion: a therapeutic space, if you will.

And you have a right to that space and the soothing effect it has on your soul, unviolated by a yappy, bogus service pet.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to . Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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10 thoughts on “Really? Your overweight, whiny beagle is a service animal?”

  • 1
    Dalrymple on January 17, 2016 Reply

    No, you are not wrong. And you should also be suspicious about people who have wrongly obtained handicapped parking passes too.

  • 2
    Rob_K on January 18, 2016 Reply

    A co-worker has a service dog. She is required in our province to carry indentification for that animal. Mind you, it also has a harness. And guide dogs undergo extensive training before they are assigned.


    Dave’s article reminds me of my brother’s running comment about getting an “assistance cat”. Now, a cat and assistance seem to be an oxymoron. But people are going that way, to get around strata by-laws against pets.

    All it is going to take is one stupid ruling from a Human Rights Tribunal – and the rights of the many are going to be crushed by the abuse of a few.

  • 3
    tallsox41 on January 19, 2016 Reply

    In my training as a Security Officer I was told the animal has to have either a vest on marking it as a service animal or the person had to have a form to prove it. When a man walked in with a rabbit in a old fashioned baby carriage we figured we were duty bound to ask. Sure enough the animal was certified with the correct documents.

  • 4
    saildawg on January 20, 2016 Reply

    You can take your little dog on an airplane without even pretending it is a service dogs, I am not allowed peanuts. More people are allergic to dogs/dog dander than peanuts.

  • 5
    Jephary on January 21, 2016 Reply

    Emotional Support Animals are Not Service Animals. The former may be helpful for bringing comfort to emotionally stressed individuals but they are not the same as Service Animals for psychiatric patients . ESA do not have the same rights and privileges as Service Animals. Why not try educating your readers?

  • 6
    2GreenThumbs on January 21, 2016 Reply

    Agree with DE here. A ‘real’ support animal will have documentation and should be trained. My support rabbit agrees too.

  • 7
    on January 22, 2016 Reply

    M.O.Having witnessed the abuse of the support animal claim on a cruise ship — with a single family having 3 dogs in one cabin — I believe that, left unchecked, the situation will rapidly get out of hand.
    It would appear that “support animal” certificates are available for purchase online, and political correctness (and possibly the Human Rights Commission) prevent many from challenging anyone who claims to have the necessary credentials for a pet.

  • 8
    keepcalm on January 22, 2016 Reply

    Yeah I think service animals should be legit or not allowed, at least not under that pretext. I love my dog and if somewhere allows her in I’m happy, but I completely understand if they say no, she is just a pet.

  • 9
    ubatuba on January 22, 2016 Reply

    Growing up, I remember guide dogs, the loyal, well trained Labrador Retrievers properly identified, guiding blind people.

    Those today who are making false claims that their untrained yappy smelly little toy dogs are support pets are nothing more than self center losers seeking special attention. Pathetic.

  • 10
    John Halbrook on January 23, 2016 Reply

    I am blind and depend on my highly trained, impeccably good mannered guide dog to take me everywhere. I always have our IDs and training certification with us.

    These phony untrained “service” dogs are a distraction and a menace to us. They have even been known to attack and maim genuine guide dogs who are trained to be non-confrontati­onal.
    Get them out of restaurants, airplanes and other public places.

    Light

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