As many of you know, Sam has a service dog, Memphis. This very blog, the name, and the majority of the posts have been inspired by their journey. When Sam realized that functioning in his day-to-day life was becoming increasingly difficult, he decided to make a change. He applied to This Able Veteran.
The story goes that after waiting to get a phone call, Sam found out he was accepted into a program that would give him the tools he needed to work through and process various traumas of war.
And at the end of a three-week training, Sam and Memphis were officially paired at a graduation in 2016.
Since 2016, there have been countless times we have been out and about and countless fake service dogs.
Service dogs help humans in a variety of ways. I know this first hand. Memphis is trained to assist Sam with a variety of tasks. He can open doors, he can retrieve items, he alerts Sam in the middle of the night, he knows when Sam is anxious, and he picks up on Sam’s behaviors. If Sam’s voice changes, Memphis is right there. If Sam’s leg starts to bounce, Memphis gives him a tap. Those are just a few of the specifics that Memphis can help with.
You might say those are real tasks.
Memphis was trained for a very long time. He did not learn these skills overnight. A highly trained group of dog trainers worked with Memphis for a long time before he was even paired with Sam. Memphis learned to stay focused and he learned to notice behaviors and actions for his veteran.
My problem and a problem that is increasing around us (not just us in southern Illinois, but across the U.S.) is that some folks pass off pets as service dogs. Because service dogs perform important and vital tasks for their handlers/owners, they are allowed to go in a variety of public places. Yes, we’ve been questioned. Yes, we’ve been seated in the back of restaurants because of having Memphis with us. Yes, we’ve been asked “What’s wrong with you?” or “Why do you need that dog?” in public. Just this past weekend we shopped at Costco, and in every aisle, someone said “A DOG!” as if they’d never witnessed a four-legged animal called a dog before.
Fake service dogs can put real service dogs in danger. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings on this topic because it impacts my husband and our family. Most recently, it impacted a friend and her husband. Untrained dogs, fake dogs, can attack people and other dogs. They can bark, they can eat off tables, they can pull their handler/owner by the leash, they can be aggressive, they can even jump on people and runoff from their handler/owner.
My advice: if you really feel that you need a service dog, please go about a legit way of getting one. Find a program (I know of one, This Able Veteran) that are willing to train dogs and work with potential handlers/owners as well. Make sure that you know what you are in for with a service dog. It is not just a pet, it is not just a dog, they are highly trained, with a specialized diet, with a purpose.
There are differences between service dogs, emotional support animals (dogs), and therapy dogs (or even animals). If you have questions about them, try to educate yourself on what is real and what is fake (or even a scam).
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, allowances are made for service animals. In particular, they may accompany their owner to a store, a restaurant, or another type of public place. Memphis goes to hotels, he has been on airplanes, he has gone to conferences, hospitals, softball tournaments, school programs, meetings, church, and fundraisers. Memphis travels well, and we know that he will be well-behaved when we are out and about (because, training).
Memphis is legit. He is real. He is trained to perform specific actions for Sam. Those actions (or tasks) are directly related to Sam’s disabilities, and that means that he can and will assist Sam when he needs it.
You can visit the ADA website at http://www.ada.gov
You can also learn about the differences between service dogs and others here http://www.thisableveteran.org