Service Dogs in a Sea of Posers

Is it still innocent to not know the difference between a service dog, therapy dog, and emotional support dog?

Unlike most college students, Claire Nakazawa is an Instagram (@service.angel.percie) super-star. The reason behind all her social media success: her service dog, Percie. Also unlike most college students, Nakazawa requires her service dog in order to live independently. Nakazawa’s mode of independence is challenged every day by the possibility that she will be barred from businesses for having a service dog without credentials.

Nakazawa’s way of life is constantly challenged by the presence of fraudulent service dogs. Photo courtesy of Claire Nakazawa (@service.angel.percie)

A service animal is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as: “a dog (or miniature horse) that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.” Despite the need for service dogs to be specially trained for their handler, the ADA does not require service animals to be professionally trained, nor does it require service dogs to have certification as proof that they are, indeed, a service dog.

In fact, regulations in place by the the ADA greatly inhibit the government’s ability to pass regulation to require or to prohibit the use of service animal attire, certification, training, and identification. This lack of regulation has led to fraud.

“I actually had one client come in who had a very fearful dog,” Lead Trainer at Paws & Effect, Asheley Anderson said. “I started doing a private lesson with him and was talking to him about his goals, and he flat out told me that he wanted to get his dog to be a service dog because they’re moving out of their house and they’re moving into an apartment here in Des Moines that doesn’t allow dogs. And I was like, oh wait a minute—can’t help you there.”

While Paws & Effect, a business in Beaverdale, Iowa, that specializes in training dogs, does not offer certification or identification to their service dogs, other organizations do, and this inconsistency across the community can cause confusion for business owners.

Lead Trainer at Paws & Effect, Asheley Anderson, experienced push-back from store owners with the firm belief that a service dog must have credentials to be present in public.

Nakazawa has first-hand experience with fraudulent service dogs. Percie came very close to being attacked by another dog in public, narrowly escaping before the dog could inflict damage. But the problem extends beyond dogs and into the misperceptions of people.

Nakazawa has gone everywhere from retail businesses to restaurants, all which are perfectly legal for Percie to be present as a service dog. Photo courtesy of Claire Nakazawa (@service.angel.percie)

Nicole Shumate, Executive Director and Founder of Paws & Effect, is attempting to create a voluntary registration of service dogs in the area.

“Per the ADA, there cannot be an actual registration,” Anderson says. “But how nice would it be if our service dog clients came to us and we worked with them and got to a certain point, such as passing the public access test? Then they could go down and sign a paper that just says they are voluntarily saying that their dog is a service dog and they’ve worked with a service dog organization.”

Nakazawa also feels there should be action taken to combat the use of fake credentials and fraudulent service dogs. Photo courtesy of Claire Nakazawa (@service.angel.percie)

To learn more about the specific regulations regarding service dogs, visit https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm.

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