How the Idea of the “Fake Service Dog Epidemic” is Hurting Service Dog Handlers (Part I)

In September of 2013, I had my first (and only, to date) access challenge. Everything ended on a positive note, because I was prepared with printed information for the business and did not engage anyone in a confrontational manner. I recorded the exchange and it’s on my YouTube channel. 

Of course, my access challenge video gets far less attention than its more sensationalized counterparts, which usually consist of handlers losing their composure and the confrontation escalating…because, which is more emotionally charged?

Earlier today, I stumbled upon a comment on my video, made by a person who questions the legitimacy of my service dog and speculates that there must have been red flags that gave the business cause for concern. Further back and forth with this person goes on to reveal that the person is very anti-owner trainer and pro-nationally recognized certification system.

If it weren’t such a troubling state of affairs that we now live in a reality in which service dog handlers have to contend with a general public, who, in the interest of protecting “real service dog teams,” jumps at the opportunity to make presumptions and accusations first and ask questions later, I would find it funny that someone could happen upon a video devoid of drama, which clearly demonstrates a service dog handler who is dedicated to non-confrontational education and associate the handler with those who misuse the system.

You can view the aforementioned comments on my video on YouTube.

(After asserting my positions on various issues and identifying that this is an individual who is not interested disagreeing in a constructive or civil manner, I’ve decided not to engage the person any further.)

My First Serious Access Challenge

This past Tuesday was the first time I experienced an access challenge that went beyond something along the lines of, “We don’t allow dogs in here.” “He’s a service dog.” “Oh, ok.” Or, “Is that a service dog?” “Yes.” “Ok, just checking.”

I was pressed to present “paperwork,” for my dog. Here’s a video of how things transpired with the second employee who approached me.

(Video description on YouTube: Before recording this, I had an initial interaction with a different employee, who insisted I present papers/documentation for my service dog. After quickly asserting my rights with her, she opted to have me talk to someone else, who I was told would be a manager.

This video reflects the entirety of my interaction with the second and final employee who I dealt with.)

My biggest Achilles Heel in this situation was the degree to which I was caught off guard. I’m lucky in that I’ve become accustomed to a partnership devoid of experiences like this one. Business employees rarely give me a second glance- at least not a scrutinizing one- when I enter with Bradley. So, when I was immediately approached in a somewhat hostile manner, being commanded to present documentation that was not legally required of me to either possess or present, I was very taken aback. I’ve experienced a myriad of access challenges, vicariously, through my friends in the service dog community, but it’s entirely different to experience it first hand. This was an invaluable learning experience just as much for me as it was for the employees to whom I asserted my rights and offered an education of theirs.

I do worry how much differently this experience would have been, had I not been prepared with the relevant educational resources about the applicable laws. Of course, I would have continued my effort to remain calm, well spoken and assertive, without compromising any of my rights or responsibilities as a representative of the service dog community. But I’m not sure that, in the absence of printed out educational material, the employees would have been as receptive to what I would have had to say.

This experience validated my position on the use of ID cards for service dogs, whether they’re from scam registries, fake certification companies or even the presentation of a legitimate certification ID for the purpose of gaining access to a place of public accommodation, during a public access dispute. Whoever was there with a dog, legitimate service dog or not, had presented something of that nature, which further cemented the impression in the eyes of management at that business that such documentation is required of service dog handlers. In an effort to make things easier for herself, that person directly affected how much more difficult things were made for me. I have no one to thank but myself, for my preparedness to deal with the ramifications of her decision.