When Good Intentions Go Bad

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Dog in harness

When Good Intentions Go Bad

Service Dogs and Their Owners Are Increasingly Encountering Untrained Pets

We all love our dogs and most of us wish we could take them with us wherever we go.  It might evoke a tinge of jealousy when we see service dogs and their handlers or tempt us to grab a harness and bring our dog along in tow.  But, as more and more people try to pass their pets off as service animals, or bring them into public places where pets are not allowed, the working dogs (and their owners) are the ones who suffer most.

It seems innocent enough.  The harnesses, collars, etc. are available to the public.  All we have to do is buy one and we could easily take our dogs anywhere, right?

We wish it was just that simple.  There are two negative outcomes that have arisen from this situation.  The first is dangerous: Service dogs are either distracted or engaged and miss warning signs that put their owners in serious danger.  The second, is unfortunate discrimination, when these individuals and their working dogs try to gain access to an establishment that has had a negative encounter with fake therapy, service, or working dogs.

Stranger Danger:

Working dogs are highly trained.  From sniffing out potential dangers, to detecting changes in their handler’s health, these dogs are on alert when they’re out and about.  Now, interject a dog who isn’t trained, who innocently enough wants to play.  This playful pup distracts the working dog or lunges to play with it. If it’s a seeing eye dog, any sudden movements could knock their human off balance and cause them injury.  If this dog is a therapy dog, it could miss out on the signs it’s designed to detect in their owner at the risk of their owner’s health and well-being. Whatever the outcome, it creates a stressful situation for the person who needs the assistance of a service dog.

Discrimination that Goes Beyond Breed:

Any discrimination against pets, let alone our beloved dogs, is not cool.  It flies in the face of everything positive about our pets.  But for a moment, place yourself in the shoes of someone with a service dog.  Bringing their dog into establishments goes far beyond accessibility.  Their life very well may depend upon having their service dog with them.  Today, we are seeing reports of service animals (wrongly) being denied entry to certain businesses or locations.  While this is illegal, it’s also very harmful.  It’s furthering a culture of us against them, isolating the people who depend on their dogs, and inhibiting them from living a life as full as the rest of us.

What Should We Do About It:

Rather than try to pass our pets off as working dogs, we should try to frequent more businesses that allow pets.  We can happily spend time with our loved ones, and people with service animals know ahead of entering these places of our presence there.  This allows them to take precautions such as bringing another friend or family member along in case of an event.  These places love your pets, their employees get the highlight of hanging out with your awesome dog for a bit, and you both get out of the house on a safe, enjoyable errand, dinner, beverage, etc.

Shops like Lowes, TJ Maxx, and Homegoods are pet friendly.  More and more bars and restaurants are either dog friendly or have dog friendly tables.  Parks and other outdoor spaces are becoming meetups for pet parents that allow both to socialize, get out of the house, and get some fresh air.

Tip: If you’re not sure about a local establishment, say because you’ve never seen a pet there, or you just don’t want to cause a scene, pick up the phone and speak with a manager.  Most will tell you their policy, which is either a yes or a no. There are sometimes clauses such as, if you’re dog breaks something or makes a mess you are responsible for the replacement of the item and/or cleaning up the mess.

We all love our pets, and we don’t necessarily think of the ramifications that our actions can have on the people who need service animals. As a society, we all benefit when we look out for each other.