Tuesday, December 5, 2023


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

Can’t get enough of the Shrink? Read his e-book: Dr. R.V. Shrink: Everything you ever wanted to know about the RV Lifestyle but were afraid to ask or check out his other e-books.






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mdstudey (@guest_54688)
4 years ago

Yes it is being abused. You can tell a service animal from pets. A service animal won’t pay any attention to you unless you approach the handler (disabled person), they are trained to do their business on demand. The list goes on.

What I am seeing on here is the “clearly not disabled” comments. Please enlighten me as to what a disabled person looks like? I bet the people think the same of me. No, I am not in a wheelchair or have to use a walker (my choice) in fact I look quite normal. What is my disability. It is none of your business and if you ask me you are in violation of the ADA. I know people abuse the service animal and placard, but I don’t. There are many illness and medical issues that are invisible, but quite debilitating.

Jim Collins (@guest_54687)
4 years ago

I am 79 and had to get a handicapped sticker because of arthritis in my knees, feet and hips, I can walk only short distances, but when we go shopping, I look for spaces close to the store before I look at handicap spaces, so I don’t take a space someone else needs more than me. I am only comfortable sitting down, if the store doesn’t have an available scooter I will drag mine out of the back of the car

linda s gray (@guest_54664)
4 years ago

I am seriously concerned with flying and other public transportation with untrained ‘service dogs’ being on said transportation. Especially with children.

Gary Bogart (@guest_32349)
5 years ago

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.

Colin (@guest_31909)
5 years ago

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.

Tommy Molnar (@guest_54669)
4 years ago
Reply to  Colin

Since they can’t serve peanuts on planes anymore because someone may be allergic to them, how come dogs and cats (and who knows WHAT else?) are allowed? This is just nuts (no pun intended).

Alex (@guest_31854)
5 years ago

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!

Peggy Coffey (@guest_33503)
5 years ago
Reply to  Alex

The poster was talking about people who go online and pretend their dog or cat or chicken is a “service” animal. Not one ordered by a doctor. But I draw the line at miniature horses. And what support can a tranquilized cat in a carrier offer anyone? Actual service animals help people wuth physical disabilities. The people who need a miniature horse next to them to get through the day needs more than a miniature horse
When someone dies from an allergic reaction to your animal, I hope you have deep pockets. You demand people accept your animal, but don’t care about someone with deadly allergies. Selfish and crazy is no way to go through life.

brian (@guest_54680)
4 years ago
Reply to  Alex

How about the clown that brought two pit bulls on a plane as emotional support animals, you can surmise who that was, after the argument he had to get off as the pilot said one animal qualifies not 2. But he didn’t go without a verbal fight and disrupt the whole flight. Of course he didn’t tell the ticking agent he had more than one and got by the boarding agent. Quit coddling these people and make them prove they have a need. ‘Can’t wait to see the horse.

Alvin (@guest_54693)
4 years ago
Reply to  Alex

Alex is precisely the reason the lady and I
-don’t fly
-refuse to enter a restaurant that allows animals of any kind to dine with their mommy[ and daddy
-we walk out without paying if a dog sits besides us – we make that known the second the owner sits an emotional needy dog lover beside us – worked every time we had to, but now very rarely eat anywhere unless we ask about the dog thing
– they don’t need us and we don’t need them, best to you needy folks – where in the ehll did all this come from, anyway, Woodstock offspring??????????????

Vanessa (@guest_31847)
5 years ago

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.

Susan (@guest_31839)
5 years ago

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.

Alvin (@guest_54694)
4 years ago
Reply to  Susan

Susan, to bad that lying doesn’t hold the same moral stigma it did when I was growing up learning right from wrong in the 50’s. Today there’s no wrong just lawyers and excuses.

Mike B (@guest_31813)
5 years ago

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).

Aktraveler (@guest_31734)
5 years ago

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 (@guest_31725)
5 years ago

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

Mike Sokol
5 years ago
Reply to  RV Staff

Diane, I’m having flashback to Sister Mary Charles in 8th grade teaching me grammar.

Jeannie (@guest_31718)
5 years ago

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.

Elaine (@guest_31719)
5 years ago
Reply to  Jeannie

If it is a trained service dog, no issue. There is a difference. Service dogs work, they do not jump around, or get in the way of what is going on unless it is to protect their person. Faux service dogs are just dogs, they may be polite and trained to be still, or not. It is pretty easy to tell a real service dog from a faux one.

Doug (@guest_31820)
5 years ago
Reply to  Jeannie

Everyone (including you) knows there is rampant abuse and fraud with “service animals”.

STEPHEN P MALOCHLEB (@guest_32177)
5 years ago
Reply to  Jeannie

You are so right. If you want to stop the abuse stop the fake documents you can buy on the internet. My daughter just got her service dog and all the documents came from the state and federal government including the dogs ID. It has specific wording on it as well as a hologram to authenticate it. If you see the fake card at first glance it looks real, but if you look closely ,you see some very important information missing. But by federal law, no one can ask to see the certificate. Maybe that should change. And yes, many disabilities are not visible.

Alvin (@guest_54695)
4 years ago
Reply to  Jeannie

“Comfort animal” – my god what next?????????? Jeanie hope you retire young with a conscience. intact.

Jerry C. (@guest_31707)
5 years ago

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 (@guest_31694)
5 years ago

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.

Jerry C. (@guest_31711)
5 years ago
Reply to  Joe Bulger

Service dogs in training are not allowed at any function. If they are truly “in training” then they should only be taken to places that the trainer has specified and is there with the owner, such as airports, malls, etc. Restaurants are not usually on the training schedule nor are church functions or other food related events (unless specifically training for allergies of diabetes) and only with the trainer there. Those people were fakers.

Alvin (@guest_54696)
4 years ago
Reply to  Joe Bulger

They may not “be allowed” – so what??? – who is going to take the owner on in any circumstance like the above and cause a fuss – and what would the result be?? – and the dog owner knows it, just like the guy stealing your mountain bike today off the back of your RV, he bloody well knows he’s going nowhere but back on the street to do it again.

Deanna L. Church (@guest_31688)
5 years ago

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.

Jeannie (@guest_31709)
5 years ago

Are you a doctor? Even if you are (which I’m reasonably certain you aren’t), you still have no way of accurately diagnosing a person’s handicaps merely by looking at the person without a proper examination.

Many people have handicaps that aren’t visible. I wish I had a dollar for every time I was accused of not being handicapped simply because I drive an F150 (it’s far easier for me to hoist myself with both my legs and arms into a large vehicle like my F150–gravity works fine for getting out–than to try to get in and out of any small and many mid-sized vehicles).

I also often don’t show any visible signs of being handicapped, especially when I first get out of a vehicle but I tire quickly. Various body parts–feet, knees, and back–frequently give out on me without warning. I have good days, bad days, and “meh” days (on the bad days I don’t leave home) but even a good day can quickly go bad on me.

Granted, there are people who abuse handicap plates and placards but it’s NOT for you to judge who does and doesn’t.

Liz (@guest_31742)
5 years ago

I agree that this is a problem. I ask folks to please not judge. In the time I was on dialysis awaiting my transplant surgery, I was thin but looked ‘normal’. So many people came up to me to accuse me of misusing the placard. Let me tell you, my invisible disability gave me a limited number of steps, breaths, movements to make at a time. After dialysis I had to crawl up the stairs to my apartment. Shopping for food was no party and parking close in helped me immeasurably.

Peggy Coffey (@guest_33506)
5 years ago

My late father had dementia and severe arthritis. But he loved riding in the car with me. His doctor told me to get the handicapped pass for the car so he wouldn’t have to walk as far. I used it only when he was in the car with me and I destroyed it when he died.

Tony Sauer (@guest_31683)
5 years ago

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.

Alvin (@guest_54697)
4 years ago
Reply to  Tony Sauer

Tony – God Bless you!!

Jean (@guest_31648)
5 years ago

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.

Terri & Joe (@guest_31804)
5 years ago
Reply to  Jean

Hey Jean … was going to write the same thing…I work with MANY service animals for MANY reasons & it makes me SO angry when people try to pass off dogs as service animals
Service animals are feet on the floor at all times OR attached to the owner (like a small dog that detects diabetes issues can be in a bag on owner). ALL service animals should disappear into their surroundings when in vest … no inappropriate behavior in any way

Joann (@guest_32474)
5 years ago
Reply to  Jean

The only people forced to allow emotional support animals (and real service animals) are landlords. Everybody else – restaurant, grocery, museum owners: You only have to accommodate an ADA-compliant critter. Use your rights, business owners, and just say no. Finally, here’s a quote from the ADA website: “There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.” Business owners, if you see someone eager to hand you some “proof” you can be pretty sure it’s fake as can be.

Ronald (@guest_31556)
5 years ago

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.

RainbowRV (@guest_31567)
5 years ago
Reply to  Ronald

That’s ridiculous. My grandma doesn’t have a car but uses her placard when someone else gives her a ride. Why would you take it away?

Jerry C. (@guest_31713)
5 years ago
Reply to  Ronald

Placards are for the individual. Tags are for the car. Tags can be driven by anyone, but only a placard can move between cars. Yes, there are many abusers, but mostly you’ll see elderly with the placard. An exception to this is the 100% disabled Vet who has a tag.

Jeannie (@guest_31714)
5 years ago
Reply to  Ronald

First, thank you for your service to our country.

That said, is your vehicle the only vehicle that you ever travel in? I don’t always travel in my own vehicle. I welcome being able to ride with someone else when they have a vehicle I can get in and out of without having to have two men and a boy shove and drag me in and out of it. Being able to take a placard with me is very handy.

rvgrandma (@guest_31552)
5 years ago

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.

Terri & Joe (@guest_31805)
5 years ago
Reply to  rvgrandma

ESA pets are not qualified to perform in public…for the home environment they are GREAT. This abuse is hurting people that need service dogs to function and ESA’s do not have to behave to the same standard. More enforcement is needed

Peggy Coffey (@guest_33507)
5 years ago
Reply to  rvgrandma

How can your grand daughter have s service cat but it’s her brothers cat? This is what makes people so angry.

Brian Clarke (@guest_31551)
5 years ago

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.

STEPHEN P MALOCHLEB (@guest_32178)
5 years ago
Reply to  Brian Clarke

Brian, they already sell fake placards on the internet, as well as fake service animal documents, as well as synthetic urine so a drug addict can pass their test. If you want something illegal, search the internet. It’s there.:):):)

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