HERMITAGE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Think twice before you buy a service dog vest so that you can bring your dog out with you. Fake service dogs are making a bad impression, and it's negatively impacting real service animals and their handlers.
Lylly Blare is wheelchair-bound and fighting cancer. For her, just going about her daily life would be impossible without her service dog, Journey.
"He carries groceries, he helps with laundry, opens and closes doors, does lights, elevator buttons, he helps take off my socks and shoes, pull my arms out of coats, he does zippers," Blare said.
Unfortunatley, not every animal that wears a service vest is truly a service animal. With lookalike service vests available online, some are taking advantage of the perks available to patients with service dogs. Blare said that has made the public skeptical about Journey.
"Journey isn't my pet when we leave the house, he's medical equipment to me. He's just as important to me getting through my day independently as my power chair is, and if that's not the case for your dog at home. Please don't slap a vest on the dog and bring it into public," Blare said. "I've also had issues at my oncologist with another dog, a little dog that was in a vest, barking at Journey," she said. "Obviously that was not a service dog because service dogs are taught to not make noises."
Blare hopes her story will raise awareness about the fake service dog problem. September is National Service Dog Awareness month, and there's some things service dog handlers want the public to know.
1. Misrepresenting a pet as a service dog is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Fake service dogs can cause confusion and pose a threat to working service dogs.
2. Emotional Support Animals do not carry the same rights as service dogs. Service dogs are allowed anywhere their handler is allowed to go. To become an ESA, it only requires a doctor's note.
3. If a business is unclear if a dog is really a service animal, employees are only allowed to ask, 'Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?' and 'What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?'
4. Service dogs are assigned to help a specific person, while therapy animals are meant to help people in large group settings like a hospital.
You can read more about ADA requirements here.