When is a “service dog” not a service dog?


Dear RV Shrink:rvshrink
We travel full-time with our dog. It is often inconvenient, but the joy we get from the companionship offsets the limitations it causes. We met a couple who are campground hosts and they invited us to go out to lunch with them. They insisted on driving because they needed to bring their “service dog” along. When we questioned them about the need for a service dog, they admitted it wasn’t actually true.

It seems the dog suffers from separation anxiety so they were able to go online and get papers that officially designate the dog as a “certified service dog.” My husband thought it would be a good idea for us to do the same, but I feel it’s dishonest. He says it is only a little white lie. What do you think? —Barking up the wrong tree in Bakersfield

Dear Barking:
I find it more than dishonest. I find it disgusting. These fake internet documents erode the credibility of actual service dogs. Many people that truly need a service animal are already suspect. To have a wave of pet owners falsifying the need for an animal will only help destroy an important program that many authentic handicapped people rely on.

Life is full of choices. If you travel with an animal it will often mean sacrificing some activities. We have more than once offered to babysit dogs for fellow campers that wanted to take a day hike on trails that did not allow dogs. In fact, dog sitting could be a very lucrative work camper business if someone wanted to pursue it. People leaving barking dogs all day in a rig while they go off is a common complaint. The service dog program is for people, not animals. Don’t let your husband confuse the two. . —Keep Smilin’, Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink

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Gary Bogart

My wife is extremely allergic to dogs and cats. She cannot breathe. No dog or cat is exempt because it is the animals dander that triggers the attack. Since this goofy law was passed, her life has become very limited. People are bringing their pets into restaurants, Dr offices, cruise ships, and churches. I have seen pets in grocery carts, the same ones that carp on my lawn, then drag their butts into carts to shop with no cleanup. Where is the sanity in all this.


Animals on planes cause problems for people with allergies to dogs and cats. A doctors letter isn’t enough it should be an independent body since there are always quacks around willing to sell their signature for letters or prescriptions.


Wow! More angst inspiring comments than I’ve ever seen in this publication. Those perturbed by service animals should familiarize themselves with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). That law explicitly defines which two animal species qualify as service animals. Everyone knows that dogs meet that criteria. The other species are miniature horses. This isn’t a joke. It’s absolutely true. I can’t wait to read complaints about a miniature horse contaminating an espresso shop or a wine tasting. Emotional support animals are an entirely different category and the law doesn’t define species or training requirements, only a doctor’s statement. People seek that credential to avoid extra fees airlines charge to fly their pet “under the seat in front” of them. It costs $100 to bring a very sedated cat in carrier on a flight while the human fare is $69. The $100 is waived if the passenger has a physician’s letter certifying the need for an emotional support animal. In my opinion, folks who resent well behaved animals in their environment were deprived of emotional support they needed at some critical point in their life. Offer them some!


Service dogs help diabetics, epileptics, children with severe autism and people with other unseen disabilities. Parking permits are used by people with heart problems, lung problems, back issues and other unseen disabilities.

My sister said she couldn’t go anywhere without her dog due to anxiety. She is legally blind but doesn’t need a guide dog.
A few months ago she accompanied a friend of mine on a three-week cruise through the Panama Canal. Now she is booking more cruises and traveling as much as she can. Actually getting out seems to have cured her anxiety.

I have a friend who has a steel rod in her spine, you don’t see it but it limits her walking anything more than a half a block. In a grocery store, she has to use the motorized cart. She hasn’t driven for over 11 years but got the hangtag for those who take her places.

Yesterday I went to Denny’s with a friend who has arthritis, needing a cane to walk, cancer and other illnesses. Her daughter was driving her car and when we got there she took out the tag and put it up. But we couldn’t tell where the handicapped parking spaces began and ended…they were all cross-hatched. Signs were on the building in front of the spaces. When we got inside we had our backs to the parking lot and when the waitress came over we asked her about the parking situation. She looked out the window and said she had never noticed it and would talk to the manager about it.


I have a condo that I rent out. I do not allow pets. My current tenant noted on the rental application that she did not have a pet. However, I found out she has a cat. I wanted to evict her for lying to me, but she told my property manager that her cat is not a “pet,” but an “emotional support animal,” and she has a doctor’s note to prove it and I can’t evict her. My property manager told me that if I do evict her, I can be fined $10,000.00. If she actually needs a support animal, that’s one thing and I wouldn’t have had a problem renting to her. But she shouldn’t have tried to sneak around with the grey area distinction of “pet” and “emotional support animal.” We have changed the rental application now to ask that question.

Mike B

Service dogs have an important role in many peoples lives however, to be dishonest for your own personal gain only brings others to question the initial practice. This is seen in many facets of society eg: handicapped parking, death in family discount flights, etc. The “good” (honest) end up paying for the actions of the “bad” (dishonest).


My complaint about animals that may be service or comfort on planes. If I’m around a dog or cat more than a few minutes I start coughing and can’t stop till I get away. Won’t ride an airplane because of all the service and comfort dogs possible these days.
As far as handicap placards… saw a car in a handicap parking space with a broken window. The police that responded said those placards are highly sought after and a thief can get up to $500 dollars apiece for them…

chris p hemstead

“Many people that truly need ..” Many people who.. (not that)


To those accusing people of abusing service/comfort animal certification, where did you get your credentials for judging who deserves them or not? I have a degree in Psychology and I know better than to think I can make that determination. As I stated about handicaps, one cannot make that determination merely by looking at them.

I once knew a woman who had an Irish Wolfhound (think of a lanky, shaggy cross between a Great Dane and a Clydesdale) that was a certified service animal. She had epilepsy and the dog was trained to warn her before she had a seizure so she could get herself to somewhere safe before the seizure started and guard her while she had the seizure. Before you say a small dog could have done the same, not every dog has that capability.

Comfort animals do perform a valuable service for those who need them. Many people with emotional disorders would not be able to leave their homes without them keeping them on a more even keel. The animal could be anything from a tiny ball of fluff (including cats, ferrets, birds, etc.) to one that looks big enough to throw a saddle on and ride.

Again, I am aware that the service/comfort animal system is being abused but no lay person is qualified to judge that anyone is abusing the system just by looking at them; not even professionals can do that.

If you want to stop the abuse, contact your State and Federal legislators, demanding that they outlaw getting certifications without going through licensed professionals. That won’t totally eliminate the abuse but it could help. What won’t help is accusing people of abusing the system when you have no way of judging if they actually are or not.

Jerry C.

Service dogs come in many sizes and uses. You have dogs for the blind, dogs for the diabetic, and even dogs for PTSD. A service dog is specifically trained and has been issued a certificate (picture ID) with the trainers and owners name. The specific type of training is also identified. If you see a dog in a red jacket and no ID, chances are they are fakers and should be challenged. It takes a long time and lots of money to train a service dog. It is unfortunate that there are places on line that anyone can order a “service Dog” jacket without a certificate.

Joe Bulger

A few weeks ago we were at a function that we sat with people we did not know. They were there with their little white ball of joy that had a red vest on that said “service dog in training”. During this function they served tea and ginger snaps. They allowed the dog to put its’ paws on the table, let it drink from the tea cup, feed it ginger snaps, and when it was tired to rest it’s head on the table. I would have moved to another table but I did not want to disturb the people that were putting on the talk. Latter on we saw these same people with a total of 4 white fur balls all with service dog in training vests on.

Deanna L. Church

What I see locally is the handicap placard being used by people that obviously don’t need to. The pass is possibly legitimate but for someone else other than the person using it. They treat it as if the ‘car’ is handicapped for whoever drives it. I actually heard a woman tell her able-bodied son or grandson to take her car so he could park close to the store.

Tony Sauer

As a paraplegic for more than forty years, I’ve seen more and more abuse of parking placards and service dogs in recent years. I can’t walk and we have a motorhome and van, both with wheelchair lifts which REQUIRE the 8 foot designated unloading area on the passenger side. In recent years more and more people use the accessible parking spaces (AKA Handicap parking) when there is an non accessible space nearby because they talked their doctor into giving them a parking placard. Or worse yet, they stay in the car while their spouse runs into the store to do the shopping. It’s quite shameful and takes away the freedom of those who really do need the extra space to deploy a wheelchair lift.

Regarding service animals, when the ADA was signed into law on July 26, 1990, congresses intent wasn’t to allow people to bring their pets into stores and restaurants. That portion of the law was to prevent mostly blind people and a few with physical disabilities, whose dogs actually perform a service, from being discriminated against. We were fortunate enough to adopt a retired guide dog from a blind friend four years ago. She’s professionally trained and very well behaved. Even though I’m a paraplegic, she is my pet, not a service dog and she’s treated as such. Yes, it’s inconvenient sometimes to leave her with friends or at home instead of lying and saying she’s my service animal but it’s the right thing to do.


There are only two questions that may be asked of people who claim their dog is a service dog.

1. Is the dog required because of a disability?
2. What services has the dog been trained to provide?

Falsely claiming that your dog is a service dog makes you subject to penalties that could be a $1000.00 fine and up to six months in jail. I wish this was enforced more.

Emotional support and comfort dogs do NOT qualify as service dogs.

Having a service dog and/or a handicap placard is a necessity for many people. If you do not need one, you should be ashamed of yourself for making false claims.


I think they need to remove the Handicap Placard from everyone and just use the auto tags instead. Being a Disabled Veteran makes me very upset seeing these people using things to keep the door dings from their new car.


I was told to legally get an animal certified ‘comfort’ dog I needed to see a shrink. Most of these people are claiming are ‘comfort’ animals, not service animals. A true service animal is for: blind, hearing impaired. and I would include military that use them for PTSD. I know a guy with a Alzheimer’s trained service dog he takes every where with him. If he gets lost or confused the dog is there to help.

My granddaughter has a ‘cat’ service/comfort animal because she has a sensory disorder. This allows them to rent anywhere since landlords can not refuse to rent to someone with a service animal. My granddaughter has very little to do with the cat – she is basically her brother’s cat.

It is horrible how people are abusing the system. It hurts those that are honest because people will question the legit ones. I finally see stores putting up signs that say ‘only service dogs’ allowed. Yes, people can get fake documents online and cheat the system. What they have are comfort animals.

Brian Clarke

I agree. This type of thinking is disgusting. While you’re at it, why don’t you get a fake disabled parking pass so you can park in the good disabled parking spaces. It’s the same thing. people that do things like this are despicable.