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is this service dog legit?

The topic of fake service dogs is hot right now, and I feel a personal attachment to the debate. I have cared for a handful of service dogs, and though I’m far from being an expert on the subject, I think I understand the basics of what makes an actual service dog.

The other day I was in COSTCO, and I saw the cutest little Boston Terrier. He had a handsome red vest on, embroidered smartly with the words “SERVICE DOG.” Of course, my eyes are immediately attracted to the animal in any situation. I wanted to kiss this little guy, and then I noticed that everyone else did, too. And they were.

As much as I like to make out with just about every dog I see, I resist my temptation with service dogs and keep my distance. They deserve the proper respect to do their jobs with minimal distraction. And I’m a good doggie kisser, so I can be a distraction. I observed this particular dog in COSTCO with his owner on a regular leash (okay) at the hot dog pizza counter tables. His man was feeding him bits of hot dog and pizza, and several people were coming up to them and showering the dog with affection. The owner just let it happen and didn’t explain that the dog was on duty, or anything of the sort.

The dog, himself, was not behaving in the fashion I know to be service dog behavior. He was begging for food (hey, stick with what works) and he was wandering around to the extent of his leash, even getting a bit tangled in the pole that held up the bench seat. Hmm.

I then was particularly confused when the owner took the dog toward the restroom (one of my littles had to go, too, coincidentally). He tied the dog to a sample cart that was being prepped to hit the floor while he went to the restroom. Huh?

I'm waiting for the littles to come out of the bathroom, and this is the "service dog."

I’m waiting for the littles to come out of the bathroom, and this is the “service dog.” This is my super secret spy camera footage. I wasn’t brave enough to get closer. Plus, I might have started kissing the dog. He was really cute.

Are service dogs typically just tied to things? I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in my life.

The sample person had to completely disinfect the cart after the dog was untied (I know this because my other little timed a bathroom trip just perfectly after the other, so I got to go back).

This all just seems a bit odd to me. It’s not the New-York-diva-lady-with-a-fake-service-dog-in-a-purse scenario that we’ve been hearing about in the media, but it’s questionable to me, nevertheless. And my emotions are at the heart of the problem. I didn’t DARE question the man. Nor did anyone working at COSTCO. That service vest seems to command as much respect as a police officer’s uniform. I would never want to insult the man with the dog by questioning him. What would I even say?

So is this dog the real deal? If not, what do we do about this?


23 Comments on “is this service dog legit?”

  1. Leah says:

    This is ABSOLUTELY not sounding like a legitimate service dog. A service dog should NEVER be given food in a restaurant type setting and should never beg for food. IF the service dog does beg for food, it should be immediately corrected.

    There are times when it would be appropriate to attach a service dog to something, but attaching the dog to a food cart while going into a public bathroom is most certainly not one of those times. A couple examples of appropriate times to attach a service dog to something and walk away: When flying, my service dog simply can’t fit in the airplane bathrooms. It just simply is not possible. So, when flying, if I need to go to the restroom, I attach her to my seat (some service dogs will wait at the seat without being attached, I know my dog will make sure to follow me since she knows she is supposed to stay right by my side, so I attach her to the seatbelt so she has to stay put). If I am getting an x-ray or similar test or procedure where she is legitimately unable to be in the room with me, I will attach her to something (and give the facility the choice of where exactly it is that I attach her). There are other times when attaching a service dog somewhere are appropriate, but they are similar to these examples, and few and far between.

    As for what to ask, a business cannot legally ask what is wrong with the person who has a service dog, but that does not mean that there is nothing that they can ask. A business CAN ask what the service dog is trained to do. The handler of the service dog (if asked by a business as verification that the service dog truly is a service dog – you don’t have to answer random people) has to answer. The person does NOT have to give info about what their disability is or any personal details, but they do have to answer what the dog is trained to do when asked in this context. This is US federal law, so it does not matter what state you are in. Most businesses know that there are many questions that they cannot ask, so they are afraid to ask the few questions that they ARE allowed to ask. They can also ask, “Is that a service dog?”

    Service dogs can come in all shapes and sizes. There are very large service dogs (like mine), and there are little bitty service dogs, and everywhere in between. Different breeds are good at different things, and can help in different ways, but there are certain behaviors that ALL service dogs legally must follow as well as standard protocols that everyone with a legitimate service dog knows need to be followed to be good citizens.

  2. Thanks for sharing this very interesting but strange story. I agree with Leah whole heartedly. I wouldn’t of known what to say or do. I have no fear of any dogs, small or large, and my first instinct is want to pat them and give kisses if I can, but not with a service dog. I know better and definitely not to offer any food or drink.
    I am surprised when other people were doing this, the owner didn’t say something to the people, such as she is a service dog on duty, please refrain from having contact with her.
    I would also think that no matter what the disability might be, that the dog could have been tied to the cart and brought closer to the bathroom. In fact why wasn;t she taken in the bathroom, usually those bathrooms are large enough. Maybe not the individual stall, but the larger area.
    I am wondering if this service dog was not fully trained yet? Or maybe she just was not following her training. I hear not all want to be service dogs make it.
    Thanks for your concern and your education in making people aware that may not be aware. Nice post and thank you Leah for your reply. You must be very proud of your dog.

    • well minded says:

      Yes, the fact that the owner wasn’t saying anything was odd to me. I’m not sure if the dog was fully trained or not, but it seems that the person should be teaching the dog how to behave, if that was the case.

  3. So not legit. Wow.
    (Creative idea to bring one’s dog in a store, though!)

  4. I always find things like this upsetting. It makes people not trust real service dogs. A friend of my Dad’s waited years for a guide dog (eventually, as it was taking so long, me and his wife trained a Labrador for him but that’s another story.) and then, despite being totally blind he was refused entry to most places because Sonny wasn’t an officially recognized guide dog.

    Although this dog doesn’t sound like a guide dog, sometimes there are other circumstances. Maybe he trained the dog himself too and it wasn’t fully trained yet?

    ~ Amy

    • That was my thought. The dog was not fully trained yet, or perhaps is failing training, which of course not every dog can be a good service dog without the proper training. I would like to think this scenerio, rather than she just wanted her dog to come in the store with her. Obviously the store didn’t have concerns about it, or they would have said something to her. Life would be terrible without Service Dogs. They do an outstanding job.

    • well minded says:

      Yeah, I’m not sure of all the circumstances…only what I saw. Anything is a possibility. I’m just not sure he was training the dog properly if that’s what he was allowing. I hate to judge because I don’t know everything, but it just seemed quite unusual.

  5. Gizmo says:

    I have to admit that this dog doesn’t sound “legitimate” and I cna’t imagine ever leaving my dog tied to a cart out of my sight and control, but then I always remember that not all disabilities are visible…so really, who knows?

    • well minded says:

      Agreed. I’m very sensitive to the fact that not all disabilities are visible. It wasn’t so much about the owner/handler. It was more about the dog’s unservice-like behavior. So, yes. Who knows? Perhaps some sort of regulation in this area would be beneficial.

    • IIf a person needs a service dog though isn’t the main purpose for the service dog to be close to the person he is assisting, such as detecting seizures, panic attacks, asthma attacks, etc. If a service dog is tied that far away, there is no chance of detecting that. I looked at the picture several times and it appears to be a good distance. If it were me and I didn;t think I could have safely brought it in with me, I sure would have brought the cart right to the door. Those restrooms are huge, not the individual stalls. The dog was simply too far away, which of course was not the dog’s fault. Just strange is all, at least to me it is.

  6. thatjenk says:

    Sounds super fake. Which is unfortunate, because if people do this and then set a bad example with unruly behaviour they ruin dog privileges for regular owners and introduce suspicion upon all legitimate service dogs. I do not approve. Although I suppose there’s always the chance it was a service dog still in training and just getting some public exposure. I may have been nosy enough to ask.

  7. This reminds me of someone I ran into at Walmart recently. I go and pet the dog, and there isn’t even a vest. The women than says “everyone seems to love my service dogs.” Both her dogs were service dogs apparently, but both seemed to be causing her more trouble than helping her. I don’t have much experience with service dogs but what I do know makes me wonder in both situations if either are aware what a service dog actually is, besides a dog.

  8. dollythedoxie says:

    How offensive and an insult to the real therapy dogs out there. I could have outted her right away. When we were in Wash DC, after several monuments we saw the no dogs allowed, oops, except service dogs. The park volunteer was very nice, we said, oh buts she’s a service dog, he said no offense but I see a lot of them and they are usually larger breeds like Labs, etc. Darn it we tried! So probably not a lot of Boston Terrier service dogs out there, just sayin! Love Dolly

    • well minded says:

      Thanks for your comment, Dolly! I know that service dogs are typically larger, but they do come in all shapes and sizes. My question was not with the breed, but with the behavior. It would be great (mostly) if we could all take our dogs everywhere…fun! But since that’s not the case, I guess we all have to play by the rules.

  9. Terry Cramer says:

    There is a type of service dog these days that, although legitimate, is at the same time, somewhat questionable. This is the Emotional Support Dog. Technically this is a service dog, but is actually not trained in any way, and does not pass a test of any sort. All that needs to happen is that a psychotherapist write a letter saying that the person has a certain psychological diagnosis, such as major depression, and needs the dog to help with the symptoms. This letter can be carried and produced if anyone should challenge the person. It will allow person to have the dog on a plane, in an apartment and in any setting. Some people feel that this should not be called a service dog.

    • well minded says:

      Yes, I have pet sat for an emotional support dog. The one I cared for was actually very well trained and knew specific commands, but I don’t know if it does qualify as a service dog.


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