I know you’ve seen them. The little dogs, tucked under the arms of their owner, or nestled in grocery carts, or with their heads popping out of a shoulder bag. Little dog owners seem to think that because their pets are small and easily transportable, they can go anywhere – into restaurants, food stores, health clinics, you name it. Although cute and tiny, those little dogs can be deceiving. Far too often, they are undisciplined and out of control. Which leads to trouble for me.
Here are a couple of examples.
I went to Office Depot for a quick dash in-and-out, intent on picking up three items. Ripley and I entered the store, grabbed a hand basket, and walked up the main aisle. As we readied to turn towards our first destination, a man appeared pushing a cart. All of a sudden, there was a cacophany of yips and yapping. Yes, there she was. A little dog in the front seat of the cart, going crazy at the sight of Ripley. The man greeted us, and shushed his dog.
We headed down the pen aisle, picked up my favorite writing tools, then turned at the end, and entered the parallel aisle with envelopes. A woman stood next to me, puzzling over her selection. As I stood trying to decide which box to buy, we were assailed once again with a barrage of barking. The poor woman at my side was so startled she cried out. The owner of our charming little barker said, “Now, Princess, you’ve seen that dog before. You mustn’t bark.” The dog, of course, with that stern talking to, continued unabated.
Ripley and I had one more item to search out, and met up with the unwelcome couple one more time, again assaulted with a earful of dog yaps and snarls. Throughout all of this, Ripley made not a peep, simply stood at my side, wondering what all the hullaboo was about.
On another recent afternoon, the two of us went shopping at a fair trade store in Sebastopol. The store is not very big, and has fairly narrow walking paths throughout. As we stepped in, a woman with a little dog on a retractable leash saw us enter. She gave us the stink eye, and scooped up her precious Fifi, seeming to indicate that my vicious large dog might be some sort of threat. I ignored her, and began to look around the shop. We lost track of each other, and at some point, she again placed her dog on the floor. I was standing at the checkout counter, ready with my purchase, when her dog realized Ripley was just around the corner. The little dog lunged to the end of her retractable leash, snarling and yipping, doing everything in her power to try to get at us, until the woman was able to rein her in.
Now, let me be clear. Any dog can be a service dog, even a small dog. But service dogs exhibit certain types of behavior. If Ripley was barking in a store, she could be asked to leave. If she lunged after another dog or a customer in a store, she could be asked to leave. That is not acceptable behavior for a service dog. Yet often, when asked, the owners of these little dogs will claim that their dogs are service dogs. They will point to a tag on the dog’s collar, or simply say, “She’s a service dog.” Perhaps there might be some confusion. Some of these dogs may be emotional support animals. People can get notes from their doctors allowing emotional support animals, whose only job is to supply comfort. But an emotional support dog has only two privileges: to live in an apartment or home where dogs are not normally allowed, and to fly on an airplane with you. They are not allowed in restaurants, stores, movie theaters, hospitals, etc.
People who violate service dog rules make it more difficult for those of us who actually need a working dog. It means I am more likely to be challenged when I bring my dog into a business establishment. It makes business owners more leery, because they have dealt with nuisance dogs. Business owners should know, however, they can ask any person to leave who has a dog who is misbehaving.
Friends of mine who have learned about service dogs by spending time with me are now also on the lookout for all these posers, and frequently report back when they encounter them. Last weekend, my friend Ann went to a restaurant near Bodega Bay, and snapped this photo. Two women were in a restaurant, each with a small white dog. Not only were the dogs in the restaurant, but one of the women pulled up a chair for her dog, and the dog sat at the table for the whole meal. When Ann confronted her about it, the woman said the dog was a service animal. Really? Let me tell you – service dogs don’t sit on chairs at restaurants.
Having an undisciplined dog in a store or restaurant causes problems for a real service dog, because the undisciplined dog reacts when seeing the service dog. Nobody wants to hear the barking and carrying on – and it’s not the service dog’s fault. In truth, it’s not the little dog’s fault, either. It’s the owner’s problem, because they are behaving like an over-indulgent parent, allowing his or her undisciplined child to run wild. Which does nobody any favors.
Being a service dog is more than simply having a slip of paper or a vest. A service dog works, has tasks that he or she performs. And on top of that, he or she exhibits a certain demeanor when out in public. Anyone should be able to tell at a glance whether or not your dog is a real working dog.
Don’t be afraid to call a fake when you see one.