Regional
8:13 am
Mon May 12, 2014

Fake Service Dogs And Low Industry Standards Impact People With Disabilities

Service Dogs provide an essential role in many people's lives.
However, a growing number of fake service dogs and an unregulated
industry are impacting those who depend on a working dog everyday.

Letticia Martinez is a freshman student at New Mexico State
University. She is blind and decided to get a service dog this year to
help her navigate campus.

She has discovered that there are some challenges that come along with
having a service dog, and the biggest one is that people always want
to pet her working dog named,"Philly."

"Oh yeah, it's a huge issue," says Martinez.

Letticia says that some people still pet her dog even after she asks
them not to. She tries not to offend people, but it can get
frustrating.

"She's not a normal dog, she's a working dog so she has to stay focused
and stay on task," says Martinez.

Another challenge facing people who need service dogs are fake service dogs.

For example, anyone can go online and order a, "service dog" harness
and take their pet anywhere. However, there are very few laws in place
to find out if a dog is a true service dog.

In fact, Letticia recently entered a building where a service dog she
later questioned started to bark and growl at her and her dog. This
confused and scared her dog, which in turn endangered her.

"Service dogs aren't supposed to have that kind of behavior in
buildings. So just having fake service dogs like that can cause
problems," says Martinez.

Trudy Luken is the Director of Accessibility Services at NMSU. She
says..The Americans with Disabilities Act only allows someone to ask
certain questions when encountering an individual with a service
animal.

"Is this dog required for a disability? And, what kind of
tasks does this animal do or provide (for the disability)?" says
Luken.

These limiting questions may hurt the chances of preventing fake
service dogs, but they do protect people who need them.

"We're hearing people complaining, but we also need to be conscience
of the fact that there are individuals who have a right to have these
animals," says Luken.

Another issue within the service dog industry is that there are no
government agencies or certifications required for trainers of service
animals.

Karen Kendall, owns Karen's Animal House in Las Cruces. She has been a
dog trainer since the mid 1970s. She says that fake certification
takes away from the people who really need the service.

"You can go and take their written test and get a piece of paper that
says you're certified, but there is no one watching you. There is no
hands on experience necessary and it's a lot of bogus certifications,"
says Kendall.

Kendall adds that besides having a commercial kennel license and
passing an annual inspection there are hardly any regulations. She
says the rules could be improved...but she does not want extreme
regulations.

"I'm at a fence here, because I am not in favor of a government
certifying everybody and everything. On the other hand, I don't want
people out there training dogs and people that don't know what they
are doing." Says Kendall.

Without regulation, the dog training industry is left up to reputation.

"I have worked very hard for many years. Thirty-something years to
build my reputation as a dog trainer," says Kendall.

Steven Torres, owns and operates American Service Dogs in Las Cruces.
He has been a dog trainer for over a decade. He too says experience is
needed to give the correct service to someone in need.

"We have to have standardization. You have to have more than just
printing off a piece of paper. You have to have years of relationships
with dogs, learning personality, learning canine behavior, and
learning how to capture the true dogs ability and personality. Not
every dog can be a service dog. One in one-thousand can be a service
dog," says Torres.

Torres says that fake service dogs are usually easy to point out
because they may misbehave. However, when they do misbehave in public
it can leave a negative legacy for someone with a legitimate service
dog and disability.

"It affects it because then businesses don't want dogs, they then look
down on service dogs and they don't give them access, and it makes it
harder for people with  disabilities," says Torres.

Torres adds that fake service dogs also make it hard for people with
disabilities to feel the independence a true service dog can give.