Recently, as my husband and I were waiting to board a plane from Atlanta to Tampa, we noticed a young woman walking around at the same gate. With one hand, she held a cell phone to her ear. With the other, she held a canvas bag.
Hanging limply in the crook of the woman’s cell phone arm was a tiny Chihuahua with a pink, rhinestone-studded collar around its neck.
We watched the woman for fifteen or twenty minutes as she walked back and forth carrying on her never ending phone conversation, all the while clutching that sad looking little dog, its back paws dangling as she gripped it by its stomach in the crook of her arm.
Finally, my cynical husband echoed my own thoughts as he remarked, “Just watch. She’s going to claim that is a service dog so she can take it on the plane.”
Sure enough, as she boarded the plane, the woman flashed some sort of laminated card and, without further inquiry, she went to her seat. By then, the little Chihuahua was stuffed into the canvas bag. Cell Phone Lady was still on the cell phone.
Phony Service Dog IDs
Of course, I cannot say for certain that the woman I saw was not disabled. Many disabilities are not readily observable to strangers. And I can’t say for sure that the sad looking little Chihuahua hanging there like a rag doll was not a service dog, trained to help the woman with whatever disability she suffered from.
But, given the look of the entire scenario, it did raise my suspicions, particularly as the dog had more of an appearance of an unwilling and not very well-cared-for accessory than an animal trained to assist someone with a disability.
And there have been a number of disturbing stories in the news recently about nondisabled dog owners trying to pass off their pets as service animals in order to gain access with their dogs to restaurants, stores, restricted housing, public transportation, and other areas where dogs would not otherwise be permitted.
Fake Service Dog IDs are Easy to Obtain
Fake service dog vests, ID cards, certificates, and other indicia of legitimacy are readily available for sale on the internet for anyone who wants to spend a little money. The problem is, these fake service dogs and their owners are doing a disservice to people with real disabilities who use trained animals for legitimate assistance.
On top of just plain fraudulent behavior, these phony service dog handlers:
- Often fail to properly clean up after their animals;
- Frequently bring animals that are poorly trained or badly behaved into establishments; and
- As a result, give legitimate service dog handlers a bad name.
Florida’s Definition of a Service Animal
Under Florida Statute § 413.08, a “service animal” is defined as “an animal that is trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability.” This broad definition includes animals (not necessarily just dogs) that are trained to perform such tasks as:
- Guiding a visually impaired or blind person
- Alerting someone who is deaf or hard of hearing
- Assisting someone in a wheelchair
- Assisting with mobility or balance
- Alerting and protecting someone with seizures
- Retrieving objects
- Performing other tasks as needed
Florida law specifically provides that a service animal “is not a pet.”
Florida Law: Penalties for False Service Dog Credentials?
Florida law provides that a person accompanied by a service dog does not have to provide documentation that the dog is trained as a service dog. An establishment may, however, ask if the animal is a service animal, and may ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform in order to determine whether the animal is really a service animal or just a pet.
And the establishment may exclude or remove an animal from the premises, even if it really is a service animal, “if the animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others.”
Although there are criminal penalties for people and companies who deny or interfere with the accommodation of a disabled person accompanied by a service animal, Florida law does not appear to provide any penalty for persons who fraudulently seek accommodation through the use of an animal falsely identified as a service animal.
How to Spot a Phony Service Dog
Wayne K. Roustan in the Sun Sentinel reports that the best way to determine whether a dog is a legitimate service dog is to observe its behavior. Real service dogs:
- Do not appear restless
- Do not jump or bark
- Will obey the disabled owner’s commands
- Will perform tasks
- Will lie down passively when instructed
It is a disgrace that any nondisabled dog owner would try to gain an undeserved accommodation for their pet by passing it off as a service animal. Real service animals perform valuable tasks for their disabled owners, and several years of often very expensive training can go into making a dog a true service dog.
Nevertheless, as long as sellers are willing to sell, and owners are willing to buy, phony “credentials” for pets, all with apparent impunity, the practice of unscrupulous pet owners passing their pets off as service animals will continue.
Here’s a collection of videos to make even the most stonehearted Monday hater smile. Watch as these returning servicemen are greeted by their dogs.
In the first one, Emmitt Thunderpaws (great name!) welcomes home his military dad:
Watch this Boxer’s excitement when his military dad comes home:
And you’ll have to see and hear this one to believe it. These two pooches cannot contain their joy over their returning Soldier.
As much as we enjoy time outside with our dogs in the summer, we need to be vigilant about the possibility of potentially deadly heat stroke. This article describes the signs of a heat stroke in dogs and offers some tips on avoiding this dangerous health hazard.
Why Are Dogs Susceptible to Heat Stroke?
Because dogs lack the ability to sweat, they may be less tolerant of high temperatures than humans. In order to exchange warm air for cool air, dogs pant. But according to WebMD, if the air temperature is too close to the dog’s body temperature – usually 99 to 102 degrees F in a healthy dog – the panting process will not help.
Short-face (brachycephalic) dog breeds such as Bulldogs, Pugs, Boxers and Shih Tzus are even more likely to suffer from heat exhaustion than other breeds because they have compressed air passage ways.
Top Five Signs of Heat Stroke in Dogs
The most common early signs of heat stroke in dogs include:
- Heavy panting and difficulty breathing
- Tongue and gums appear bright red
- Thick, heavy drool
- Lethargy and weakness
If your dog begins experiencing any of these signs of heat stroke, seek immediate emergency veterinary care. In the meantime, quickly get your dog into a cool environment, such as in front of a fan or into air conditioning. Apply cool, damp towels to the hairless parts of her body (stomach and paws), but avoid using ice. According to Banfield Pet Hospital, using ice can cool your dog’s body temperature too quickly and cause other complications.
Even if your dog appears to recover from distress after you’ve applied cool compresses and gotten her into a cool environment, you should still seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Heat stroke can lead to other serious health problems in your dog within hours or days of a heat stroke episode. These complications include:
- Laryngeal edema
- Kidney failure
- Irregular heartbeat
Avoiding Heat Stroke in Dogs
The best practice is to prevent heat stroke in the first place. Schedule walks and outdoor play time early in the morning or after sundown, when temperatures tend to be cooler. Have plenty of water available for your dog during walks and exercise, and make sure there are shady areas so that your dog can rest.
Avoid leaving your dog outside on hot days. Even if he has access to shade and water, he could still become overheated.
And never, ever confine your dog on a concrete or asphalt surface or leave your dog inside a car without air conditioning. A car can become an oven very quickly on a hot day. The Weather Channel reports that a car sitting for 10 minutes in 90 degree F weather can reach an inside temperature of about 109 degrees F after only 10 minutes. After 20 minutes, it can reach almost 120 degrees F inside the car.
Always use caution when exposing your dog to summer’s heat. Watch for the signs of heat stroke and take immediate action should your dog appear to be having difficulties.
According to a 2011 survey by AAA and Kurgo, a manufacturer of pet travel products, 56% of pet owners have driven with their dog in the car at least once a month in the past year. And certainly one of the pleasures of having a well-behaved dog is the ability to take her along for outings. The cliche of the dog hanging his head out a car window, ears flapping in the wind, is one that can bring a smile to your face.
But many dog owners do not consider that driving with the dog unrestrained in a vehicle carries inherent risks for the dog and for the driver and passengers. And to make matters worse, the survey found that large numbers of dog owners exacerbate the risk by engaging in dangerous conduct when they have their dogs in the car.
Unrestrained Dogs and Risky Behavior by Owners
According to the survey:
- 52% of respondents admit they pet their dogs while driving
- 23% have used their hands or arms to hold their dog in place while applying brakes
- 19% have used their hands or arms to prevent their dog from climbing into the front seat
- 18% allow their dog to sit in their lap
- 13% give treats to their dog while driving
The AAA/Kurgo survey also revealed that 83% of respondents acknowledge that an unrestrained dog in a car can be dangerous, but only 16% use a pet restraint.
How Dangerous Is It?
Just what are the dangers involved in having an unrestrained dog in a moving vehicle? According to Christine Selter, founder of the Bark Buckle UP pet safety movement:
- A 60-pound pet becomes a 2,700 pound projectile, at just 35 mph
- Pet travel has increased 300% since 2005
- Unrestrained pets delay emergency workers’ access to human occupants
- Pets escaping post-accident pose many dangers, including catching the loose pet
- Injured pets may bite first responders and rescue workers
- Pets may escape through a window or open door and cause a second accident
- Driver distraction is common when unrestrained pets are rambunctious
The State of the Law on Pet Vehicle Restraint
While several states have laws that require pets to be restrained while traveling in open areas of the vehicle, such as the bed of a pick-up truck, no U.S. state has successfully enacted legislation mandating that pets be restrained inside the passenger area of a moving vehicle.
In 2008, California and Virginia considered legislation that would have punished drivers for having pets on their laps; however, neither measure became law.
According to a November 2010 report by the Iowa Policy Research Organization (IPRO), only Hawaii explicitly forbids drivers from holding a pet in their lap. In Arizona, Connecticut and Maine, distracted driving laws may be used to charge drivers with pets on their laps.
Should There Be Dog Seatbelt Laws?
The dangers involved in having an unrestrained dog in a moving vehicle are clear. It is a safety hazard for the driver, the passengers, the pet, and potentially for first reponders such as law enforcement and EMTs. According to the IPRO report, some objections to animal vehicle restraint legislation include:
- The potential costs involved in enforcement
- The difficulties involved in enforcement
- A perception of over-regulation of private activities by the government
- The costs to individuals of purchasing restraints for their pets
On the other hand, the report points out that charging fines for drivers who fail to use vehicle pet restraints could generate revenue.
Perhaps most importantly, reducing pet related accidents could save a state money, “especially given the very high costs of traffic accidents in terms of monetary damage to vehicles, health care costs and human lives.”
Not to mention the lives of our beloved pets.