Where can I get a vest like that? -or- Lies people tell to get their way

September 12, 2010 at 10:55 am 13 comments

During my two years as a puppy raiser, I have been asked a lot of questions. How old is he? (10 months old, and he’s a her.) Can I pet your dog? (No honey. Not when she’s working.) Why is your dog wearing that thing? (Would your mom let you go to the grocery store NAKED?!) Would you like some help finding your seat? (Thank you for offering, but no. I can see just fine.) You don’t look blind; what’s your disability? (I am training this dog to help someone else. But now I feel compelled to let you know that your question was inappropriate. Would you like to talk about a kinder way to ask about a service dog and his partner?)

Believe it or not, this last question, even when asked in as condescending a tone as humanly possible, has not been the most offensive or upsetting or misinformed. No, I am most bothered by the many adults and teenagers who have asked, “Where can I get a vest like that?”

In all honesty, you can Google shopping results for “Service dog vest” and find more than 10 pages of results. In many places, you can even go to PetSmart and buy any ol’ outfit (the one on the link is a cow Halloween costume for your dog) and slap these letters on the back. A woman here in Sacramento has used this method and now takes her yappy, “ADA CERTIFIED” dog everywhere. It works. Especially if you are overweight. Or look funny. Or wear your sunglasses inside.

Here’s why it works: It is illegal and inappropriate to ask a person about his/her disability. It is uncomfortable, too. So able-bodied people keep their mouths shut. Even when they think a fast one is being pulled. I am ashamed to count myself among the able-bodied who have treated those with disabilities differently than I would treat other able-bodied people. I have held them to lower, and I realize, insulting, standards. After all, who wants to be the 24-year-old, (cute) young woman calling out the lady in the electric cart at Ikea for bringing her (poorly behaved) pet into the store. No one. That’s who.

So, yes, you can dress your pup in whatever clothing you like. Print out an ID or a letter from a “service organization” and carry it in your pocket. Voila. Your dog can go anywhere.

You can. But should you?

The easy answer is, “No.” But this issue isn’t easy, because Americans want what they want and often see no harm in taking their dogs to Ikea, the grocery store, a coffee shop, etc.

When you take your pet in public illegally, you are doing harm.

You hurt me, a puppy-raiser, by making my job much harder. It is difficult enough to teach a puppy (a four-month-old black lab, for example) to pay attention to her handler in public without dog distractions. But when your dog is there, pulling on his leash, barking at my dog or being pet by every passerby, my dog doesn’t understand why she should behave, remain quiet and be content with being ignored.

And your dog smells. I’m sorry, but he does. Even if your dog just came from the groomers, my dog can smell the dogginess on him. She will sniff the places your dog has been days later. She can’t help it. Your dog smells.

When I first moved to California, I loved that so many places allowed all dogs in. I loved going to The Naked Lounge at 15th and R streets downtown. Then my dog started sniffing the floor, the chairs, the table. She didn’t understand why the place smelled like a dog park. So she didn’t want to work. Of course, we have worked on her ability to stay focused around these dog smells, but all of us struggle with ignoring distractions and practice just isn’t enough. In our work environments, we often have the option of removing distractions altogether (turning off the TV, for example.) Our pups, and the working dogs they grow into, never have that option. It is up to humans to respect the work environment of these service animals. We do this and minimize distractions by leaving our pets at home and only taking them on trips to dog places (the pet store, the vet, the dog park).

Do I need to say that I stopped frequenting The Naked Lounge? My pups were just too young for me to compete with the dog smells they could detect (note: The Naked Lounge doesn’t smell like dog to me, but it does to my dog. Same with the poodle in your purse. This isn’t about my nose, it’s about Beale’s nose, and the noses of every working dog out there.)

And your dog acts like a dog. I have worked very hard to teach Beale that when her vest is on, she needs to behave. Your dog doesn’t know the rules.

I take my service-pup-in-training in public to teach her how to act like a human. I want her to walk quietly. In straight lines. And to follow directions given in English. I do not want her to ask for pets or to lick knees or to eat things off of the floor. Your dog does all of these things. How do I know your corgi hasn’t been trained to be in public? He strains at his leash. He jumps up on strangers. He licks the floor. He howls. These things are dog things. I leave Beale’s dog traits at home. Please leave your dog at home, too.

Passing your dog as a service dog harms legitimate service dogs and their partners.

I have heard that distracting a guide dog feels the same to its partner as grabbing the wheel while you’re driving would feel to you. Is having your dog with you at the grocery store worth the risk of making a person whose life is already a bit more difficult than yours feel this out of control? If you have answered yes, I urge you to talk to your best friends, your mother, your pastor or your parole officer. See if everyone in your life feels the same way. Discuss it in the comments section here. Because I truly can’t imagine a scenario in which this would be OK.

And one more thing. Your lies make me look like a liar, too.

At least once a month, I am forced to explain myself. I have to produce copies of Beale’s paperwork for the manager or owner of an establishment. I have to explain why I want to bring Beale into a new place. I have to explain why she should be allowed. This process wastes my time, wastes the time Beale would otherwise have for learning how to be a better assistance dog. And it’s annoying. Because I follow the rules. I have the papers. I know my rights and responsibilities and I work hard to make sure Beale is not causing a ruckus. But others, and their lies, have made some people suspicious of any able-bodied person bringing a dog into an establishment, even if the dog is wearing clothes.

It only takes one bad experience to make a person suspicious of all dogs. Your dog, dressed in a vest bought from Amazon.com, might plant that suspicion… cause that first bad experience.

Passing your pet as a service animal is illegal and it does harm. It harms me, it harms my dog. It harms everyone like me and my dog. And it adds further burden to the lives of people who rely on animals for support in their lives. Please, please. Leave your pet at home and stop asking me where you can get a vest like Beale’s. Unless, of course, you want a puppy like Beale (and the immense responsibility) to go with it. Then we can talk. Because you, you, I like.

Please ask yourself what lies you have told to get your way today, this week, this month, this year. Could you be hurting someone unknowingly, unintentionally and indirectly? Are you willing to take the risk that you are?
Some links for you:

http://www.ada.gov/qasrvc.htm

http://www.canineandabled.com/Imposterservicedogarticle.html

http://thedenverdailynews.com/article.php?aID=8357

http://gamedogguardian.com/education-and-resources/ada-and-bsl

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End of August puppy report. What we had for dinner

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Amanda  |  September 12, 2010 at 11:29 am

    I love this post! I’ve rarely run into other dogs in public, but there have been occasions. Some are great experiences, but others are a pain.

    The day I picked up my first puppy, Turk, we went straight to McDonald’s for lunch after leaving the puppy truck. There was a wonderful gentleman in the restaurant with his hearing-ear dog. We had a great visit about service dogs, and it gave me motivation for starting my journey with Turk.

    On another occasion I was in a store with a puppy that I was puppy sitting when a young woman approached me with her self trained service dog. Before our brief conversation was over, her dog had bitten the puppy. Needless to day, I was unimpressed and the puppy was pretty shaken up. (Thankfully the bite didn’t break the skin.) I had to get nosy and ask why she had a service dog. He was her “emotional support.” Seriously? Maybe I am too judgmental, but give me a break.

    Here’s my question to add to this post. How many of you out there have run into people who want to self train a puppy for themselves or a family member? After my experience with the emotional support dog, I sort of freak out on anyone who says this. (I run into people like this at least once or twice a month.) Maybe it is just me, but I don’t think people can effectively train their own service dogs. Whenever I meet people who want to train their own puppy, I give them a list of organizations who will give them already trained dogs.

    I love all of the service dog organizations and the different ways dogs work with humans. Whenever I see a working team, I am amazed. They are phenomenal. Like you, I hope that people who want to selfishly take their pets in public won’t make life harder for working service dog teams.

    Reply
    • 2. Becka  |  September 12, 2010 at 4:20 pm

      I read something today about emotional support animals not being covered by ADA… does anyone out there know more about this? The gist of what I read was that emotional support animals don’t perform a specific task, so they don’t have to be allowed access. Is that right?

      I feel very strongly that emotional support animals, self-trained service animals and even pets should have to play by the same rules as other service animals and people do when they are in public… which includes NO BITING YOUR NEIGHBOR!

      While I was in college, I knew a woman who had a self-trained service dog who was very well behaved and truly helpful for the woman. This was clearly not a case of passing a pet for a service animal. However, I do understand your concern. It would be nice if there were a way to guarantee that animals in public were well behaved and truly helping their partners. I am beginning to understand that one way to make that happen is to be sure that all of us treat those with disabilities and those with service animals the same way we’d treat everyone else. If we hold everyone to the same standards and are willing to speak up when something isn’t right (ie. if we will tell a manager that another dog (even one in clothes!) has bit our dog, or is growling at our dog, etc.) we can make strides toward safe, happy pubic places where dogs doing their jobs can succeed and all people are treated with respect.

      Reply
      • 3. Amanda  |  September 12, 2010 at 4:49 pm

        I’m glad to hear that you have met well behaved self-trained service dogs. My only real encounter with one was the negative one I mentioned. Most of the families that I meet who want to self train a dog are afraid of the expense of buying a service dog so they want to train one for themselves. Their faces light up when I tell them most organizations are nonprofit and the dogs are free. Part of the reason I puppy raise is because it is a way to give back. I wouldn’t do it if people were charged for the puppies. However, I’m glad to know that some people can successfully train their own dog. That’s a lot of work and something they can be proud of.

  • 4. Al Brittain  |  September 12, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Well, it’s not gonna surprise you that I think this is a great post, especially if you’ve been following this deal I’ve been writing about lately:

    http://www.albrittain.com/service-dogs/cesars-way-wrong-about-service-dogs-part-1-overview/

    Al

    Reply
    • 5. Becka  |  September 12, 2010 at 4:24 pm

      Thank you for your comments. I am on the fence about pit bulls as service animals. If you check out the last two links in my post, you’ll see that they’re about pit bulls who are service dogs being denied access. I think this is utterly ridiculous. Al, I read on your blog that you believe training pit bulls to be service animals adds an unnecessary challenge to an already challenging life. I totally see your point. And I am afraid of pit bulls and other big dogs (black labs included, go figure!). However, if a dog is truly performing a service and has proven himself to be well-trained and free from black marks on his own personal record, then the ADA should trump any breed-specific legislation.

      As for Caesar, well… if he wants to pay for a meaningless piece of paper, then fine. All we can do is educate people about how to ask about, identify and handle the presence of service animals.

      Reply
      • 6. Ally  |  September 17, 2010 at 11:31 am

        Great post! Emotional Support animals are not service dogs although they are allowed some “special treatment” they are not task trained or allowed public access. The only special treatment they get is being allowed on airplanes and in housing that has a “no pets” rule. Owner-trainers can train amazing dogs but not all are legitimate service dogs and I think that’s where the issue lies, not in legitimate owner-trainers that train their own real, needed service dogs! Again, great post! I too hate when people ask me where they can get a jacket for their dog!

  • 7. Becky  |  September 12, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    I find it ironic that the ad by Google at the bottom of this post is for Serivce Dog tags/ID, sigh…Contrary to the first post, there are some wonderfully self-trained service dogs out there, with manners and everything, we just happen to not notice them because they fade in to the background as a good service dog should. I also think it is the responsibility of store employees/employers to know their rights – if a service dog (organization trained or self trained) is behaving inappropriately, it is within their legal right to ask that the dog be removed from their premise. Service dogs in training do not always have the same rights at service dogs in public places – you need to know the law in your state.

    As a new service team, I am still having to work with my dog on public behavior. As a medical alert dog, she has an extra sensitive nose. The handler needs to be able to handle the dog appropriately in all situations, and be willing to leave if it’s not working.

    Reply
    • 8. Becka  |  September 12, 2010 at 4:12 pm

      I love that you mention that the handler needs to be willing to leave if it’s not working. That’s a really good point that I think a lot of us (puppy raisers, service dog partners, dog owners in general, parents…) forget. It’s embarrassing to leave a restaurant mid-meal or a church service mid hymn. But if your dog (or child) can’t handle himself, get out of there! I know I struggled with the balance between my belief that Trego needed to be exposed to challenging situations and my obligation to respect other people in those situations. I am doing better with Beale!

      I have also learned that when a situation is “not working,” the pup might need to be exposed to the same type of thing but in smaller doses. I now know to work to set Beale up for success… and it seems like it’s working.

      Thanks for your comments!

      Reply
  • 9. Walter Underwood  |  September 12, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    I explain to people that distracting a service dog is exactly like grabbing someone’s wheelchair or jostling their cane. In California, it is also illegal (a misdemeanor).

    Reply
    • 10. Becka  |  September 12, 2010 at 4:04 pm

      That’s another wonderful analogy. Thank you also for the information about California law.

      Reply
  • 11. Brooke & Cessna  |  November 5, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    I absolutely loved reading this post and am so happy to finally read some raiser comments which bring up the fact that dogs and puppies who do not behave make it harder for the rest of us. I have raised 2 puppies for an autism assistance program (1 is working ; the other was washed due to elbow issues) and I use a dog guide (as I am visually impaired) so I have experienced both sides of the coin in the service dog world. I look forward to reading more about your raising adventures, as I miss it dearly.

    Brooke, Cessna (currently working), Phoenix (retired), Aspen & Canyon (pets)
    http://ruledbypaws.blogspot.com & http://lifeandchallenge.blogspot.com

    Reply
    • 12. Becka  |  November 12, 2010 at 1:11 pm

      Thank you for your kind words and your visit to our blog! I have so many people ask about Beale’s vest! I am surprised more people don’t write about that frustration on their blogs.

      Reply
  • 13. 2010 in review « failures of a puppy raiser  |  January 2, 2011 at 10:02 am

    […] The busiest day of the year was September 12th with 78 views. The most popular post that day was Where can I get a vest like that? -or- Lies people tell to get their way. […]

    Reply

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