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Why Fake Service Dogs Insult People With Disabilities

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My supervisor was sharing how much she enjoyed her new home which was in my old neighborhood. She asked if I was familiar with the church three blocks down. I replied that I had attended the church with my husband and service dog. Excitedly, she inquired if I had attended any of the baseball games. I laughed and reminded her that we are a football family. She replied that she wanted to take her pet dog, Molly, to the games but would have to sneak her in because she saw a sign that said “Service dogs only, no pets.”

My supervisor joked and said she thought Molly could behave well enough because she would just sleep. I was shocked. We have had many conversations about my service dog, the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act), Kentucky law, and “fake service dogs.”  I was so upset I was speechless.  She changed the topic and continued the conversation, but this is what I wanted to share with her:

Dear Linda (name changed),

When you brought up sneaking Molly into the church ball games as a service dog, I was really disappointed.  We have had many conversations about service dogs, people with disabilities, and the laws governing their rights and responsibilities.  I believed you were educated and ethical. I will try to put it very plainly for you. To have a service dog, the handler must have a disability. Would you like my disabilities? Would you like disabling panic attacks and depression? Would you like to be hearing impaired?  Would you like to be hypoglycemic and unaware of the symptoms? Because I am disabled, my service dog performs tasks to alleviate my disabilities. You know this.

When you sneak a pet in somewhere as a service dog, you are faking a disability, not just claiming the dog is a service dog.  In a way, by sneaking around, you make fun of those of us with disabilities and belittle our illnesses or conditions. That is not a kind thing to do. Perhaps you have not really thought through this action and its consequences. I hope you are merely being thoughtless and not truly unkind and unethical.

People with disabilities don’t take our service dogs everywhere to have “fun” or be “cool.” Service dogs are medical tools that alleviate symptoms of our disabilities, and they are living breathing beings with the brains of toddlers that require constant care and attention. They are expensive. They draw attention to the fact that you are disabled.

Hopefully you realize now that your comment and your idea to pretend to be disabled and pass Molly off as a service dog was deeply hurtful. People with disabilities deserve respect and obeying that sign is one way of showing respect.

Getty image by Tzu Reyes.

Originally published: May 29, 2018
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