The problem: What’s with dog owners who take their pets into stores and restaurants claiming they are “service animals”? I assume the owners have gone online to get a fake certification or vest. Can I say something?
Low road: Say, “What an adorable vest! I’d like one for my dog. Where did you get it?”
High road: It’s hard to watch people act with blatant disregard for the rules, but be wary of making assumptions. The largest group of people with disabilities are those with hidden disabilities.
The Americans With Disabilities Act defines a service animal as any dog trained to perform specific services, such as guiding those who are blind or deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting a person having a seizure, reminding someone with mental illness to take prescribed medications or calming a person with PTSD. These service animals are highly trained at considerable cost. They are not pets. Anyone who thinks it’s clever to buy a dog vest online to take their dog shopping or into a restaurant should know that 19 states make it a criminal offense to misrepresent a service animal, with fines in place.
Other owners might simply be confused between a service animal and an emotional support animal. The latter provides companionship, relieves loneliness and sometimes helps with depression and anxiety, but is not specially trained, although they are covered under the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Air Carriers Act. You could complain to the business owner, who is allowed to ask two questions: “Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?” And, “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?”
But in this dog-eat-dog world, I’d say, “See something? Don’t say something.” The law will catch up with the cheaters, unless their moral compass does first. Tell yourself that you just don’t know what stresses people face. If you catch the owner’s eye, smile, then steer clear.
Send questions about life’s little quandaries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Gail’s “High Road” columns at startribune.com/highroad.