Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Conduct Unbecoming Of A Service Dog: Our First Encounter With A Fake

We often take our son's Skilled Companion with us to the grocery store. We've been going into this particular grocery store for years so they know us, they know our boys. We never felt the slightest bit of trepidation about taking him there when we first brought him home because of the familiarity with the people. The entire service dog thing is still a little new to us. We have only had him a few months, but I can assure you, it's been more than we had ever hoped for. We never thought we could get Anthony to calmly walk through an entire trip to the grocery store, but we have with Mickey. We never thought he would show undivided attention to a dog, but he does with Mickey. 

We didn't know it would help with one of his biggest challenges either, potty training. Anthony's still in pull-ups and usually he needs help remembering the steps he needs to take in the bathroom. After a few days of marching Mickey around and us giving him commands to do things, it was like a light switch went off and he realized he could do more on his own. During break at our training with Mickey, Anthony walked ahead of me into the bathroom, slammed the stall door in my face, and went to the bathroom all on his own for the first time ever.

Again, we have only had Mickey a short while, but alongside the good we've also already encountered the bad, too. We've already faced a landlord who tried to illegally charge us for Mickey, and we won. We knew there would be testy people out in the world who would question Mickey's validity because of the rampant problem with fake service animals.

Yesterday, however, we encountered another service dog. 

Or I should say, a dog someone was trying to pass as a service dog. We were halfway through our trip trying to get to the other end of the store, when all of a sudden a dog starts barking loudly from the end of the isle we are passing and lunging toward our dog. Mickey leaned toward it a little with a curious sniff, I corrected him with his leash and he stopped.The owner of the other dog was now knelt beside it holding onto it, coddling it, talking to it saying "He just startled you, it's OK. You're OK. You just got startled."

That's not how that is supposed to work my friend. Not if it's been trained properly by an accredited organization. One such nationally recognized organization is Canine Companions for Independence. 
Mickey, like all other Canine Companions, was bread and raised as a service animal from birth by qualified professionals who have been training dogs like Mickey for years. He's the legit shit.
He doesn't bark unless he's commanded to. You read that correctly. No barking.
He's been trained to be seen and not heard in public.

So just to make sure the scene is set for you, this dog barks and lunges, startles everyone around us, including Mickey. The owner is on the ground holding her dog back, coddling her dog that has a service vest on, much like Mickey's, while Mickey sniffs and stops when I tell him "No."
We just kept walking on our way, and as we did, my husband asked me, " What kind of a service dog does that?", to which I replied, "They don't."

I'm thinking maybe she heard us, because she later came up to us at the check out, without the dog, and apologized. She seemed upset and I couldn't tell if she was sad or angry. She explained that she was trying to train the dog to be a service animal, that it had been kicked out of the training, and that it was clear he wasn't ready to restart. Which left me wondering why it was out in in public with a vest on in the first place. She apologized again, and I told her it was fine in order to avoid a scene. I think she was afraid I would report the dog more than anything.
I hope that she legitimately needs the dog, and I hope that she gets a legitimate service dog and leaves that one at home.

You might love your pet dog to death, and they might help your anxiety, but don't make the real deal service animals look bad because you don't want to go through the proper steps to get a real service animal. The real deal will not bark and startle the public. The real deal does not need coddled when it behaves incorrectly. To get to the real deal status, it takes a few years of extensive training and testing. It takes a crap ton of man hours and usually the same crap ton of money. It takes being paired up with just the right dog and an all day two week long training with said dog that's been trained since birth before you can take that dog out with it's vest on.

The real deal quietly helps my son walk through the entire grocery store trip without a meltdown. He can pick things up for Anthony that he drops, and helps him do chores around the house. He gives lap pressure and snuggles with his big heavy head or body.  He helps carry in groceries alongside his boy too. All with a simple, specific commands.

I understand some people have emotional support animals that don't do a myriad of commands, but they still should not startle people in public if they are legit. Legally, anyone can kick Mickey out if he's being a nuisance. If I or anyone else had complained about it, legally, the store could have asked her to leave. I'm sure that moment was embarrassing for the woman, but I hope it served as a lesson. There was a clear cut, stark difference between the way the two dogs conducted themselves in that moment. One is what the public needs to see in order to be more accepting of animals who have jobs, and the other is the opposite. A service dog is not a pet, so the coddling after it messed up is a dead give away that this dog is a pet. Not that Mickey doesn't get loved on at home, but there is a time and a place.

Kristoffer is a veteran Marine, and he likened the entire situation to him seeing someone wearing stolen valor.  It's just not cool, and it's not legal. If you see a working dog out in public that is behaving poorly, disrupting the public, that's not a real service dog. Please remember Mickey, and know that for every person out there trying to throw a vest on their pet so they can take them where ever they want, there's a dog like Mickey who wears his vest proudly because he earned it.

( Picture Below: Anthony and Mickey nuzzling each other, patiently waiting in the checkout line.)

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