We've all heard the playground chant about whose dad or house or anything of importance is bigger than someone else's. Lately, I wonder if there isn't a race in some pet-restricted communities to see how many people can actually get a pet by hook or by crook. Last Friday seemed to be my day to bump into a variety of service and support animals as I visited several different venues in Broward County.
My first encounter was with a very cute little dog wearing a standard Service Animal vest walking along the sidewalk near the entrance to my office building. The dog strained his leash as he eagerly attempted to jump up and greet passersby. Friendly for sure but not typical service animal behavior. When I got up to my office I decided to see how easy it is to order a service animal vest for your dog. It turns out it is pretty darn easy. Dozens of companies came up including Amazon and Ebay. One website did have the following warning on it:
It is fraudulent to represent your dog as a service animal if it is not. Please don’t do it! Although service dog vests are not required by ADA Law, persons with service animals find it easier to outfit their dog in a service dog vest. It instantly shows the place you are entering that your dog is a service dog and has the right to accompany you. Simply put it helps to avoid confrontation. We will not sell any service animal supplies for a pet dog.
Still, there was nothing to stop someone from completely ignoring the foregoing information and proceeding to the order page.
I suppose the statement that a service animal vest helps to "avoid confrontation" is true because most business owners are now so fearful of litigation that they have instructed their employees not to inquire about a dog wearing one even if the animal seems to otherwise not fit the service animal mode.
Later at a business lunch on Las Olas, my colleague and I were seated outside next to a table with three Yorkies accompanied by their human "masters". One of the dogs sat in his owner's lap, one on the floor near the table and the third comfortably sat on top of the table throughout the meal. These dogs wore no vests so their presence at the upscale bistro remained a mystery. Perhaps they were there to provide emotional support rather than being trained service animals? Frankly, the weather was beautiful and the dogs were no trouble at all other than the odd sensation the one actually sitting on the table created while looking over at our meal wistfully.
My last encounter came later that evening when my family and I went to the Broward Center to see Green Day's American Idiot. Midway through the performance we heard a dog barking in the theater. Since there were no canine performers in the show, we realized it was yet another support animal who had found his or her way into the theater. We looked left and right to see where the dog was seated and, to my surprise, I found a man two seats down from us with his bare feet propped up on the brass balcony railing. American Idiot indeed!
For 12 1/2 years, I was the proud and happy owner of a Boxer named Baci; the name means "kisses" in Italian and it was an apt moniker as he was friendly as most Boxers are. While my family and I loved spending time with Baci, we never felt compelled to buy him a Service Animal vest so he could accompany us to places he really shouldn't be. I chuckle even thinking about how he would have certainly worked to get any such vest off himself. We usually took him to the dog park as opposed to French restaurants and while he was a fit television companion, I cannot imagine enjoying a Broadway show with Baci rolling around next to us.
The choice to pursue or forego a fraudulent service animal or support animal request boils down to an honor system of sorts. At this point, it really should not be surprising that some people are going to act dishonorably in this regard.