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The following solely reflects the positions on which Please Don't Pet Me has taken.
Service Dog Registries and Certification: Ethics and Buyer Beware
The topic of registering or certifying service dogs continues to be a controversial issue. For those who are not familiar with the concept, here’s a cursory explanation: Various companies offer services that either claim to register or certify service dogs. Most charge to do so and even if they don’t for that particular service, they do charge for “documentation,” of having done so. This documentation can come in the form of certificates, official looking ID cards, collar tags and more.
Questions and Concerns
What’s wrong with Registering or Certifying a service dog, through one of the myriad of sources that can be found, online?
First, and foremost, registration and certification are not required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. By presenting service dog handlers with the option to use such services, these companies are perpetuating a prevalent misconception. This misconception causes immeasurable consequences.
Secondly, the majority of ethical service dog handlers already know that buying into these bogus schemes are not worth it. That leaves one to wonder: Just what ‘demographic’ are these businesses catering to? It would stand to reason that most of the people who patronize these companies are unscrupulous individuals who want to pass their pets off as service dogs.
One of the harshest ramifications of the use of registration and certification being used to gain access to a public venue is that which affects legitimate service dog teams. By presenting this type of documentation to gatekeepers, one is only further cementing the misconception that it is legally required. Then, the next service dog team comes along, attempts to gain access to the same venue and they are rejected, because they do not have and/or refuse to present any form of documentation. Keeping in mind that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not require certification or identification, does this seem fair?
Are there any types of certification or identification that a legitimate team can use?
Yes and No.
Many organizations that train and place service dogs with people with disabilities will certify the team, upon completion of training and recertification may be necessary, along the way. This type of certification, depending on the affiliation the program has with organizations that oversee and set standards for them, are only recognized within that program and/or the overseeing organization. Certain types of certification may be necessary for travel abroad.
That being said, there is no centralized certifying organization that is recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means that the choice to certify a dog, through a reputable organization, like a service dog training program, that strictly evaluates the dog, is entirely based on the discretion of the service dog handler or the program from which the handler acquired the service dog. This is a personal choice. However, many service dog handlers don’t feel it should even be an option, as they feel it sets a negative precedent.
Even legitimately earned certification doesn’t mean that a service dog handler should present such proof of it, under circumstances that don’t warrant it. This does just as much damage to the service dog community, as a whole, as the use of fake certification ID cards do.
Why isn’t it OK to purchase a plain ID card online?
Most ID cards that are sold online, while not advertised as so, strongly resemble a form of “official” looking identification. If misconstrued, this presumably benign form of identification can have a detrimental effect, equal to that of fake certification and registration.
There are several styles of service dog vests that include clear pockets that are made almost the exact size of a driver’s license- the same size of identification cards. Displaying identification cards in pockets like these, attached the the harness in some way, on lanyards, etc. elicits the same reaction: service dog teams are required to display identification.
If you’re concerned about becoming separated from your service dog the following steps should suffice:
Displaying Documentation of some kind makes things go more smoothly for me.
That may be true, in the short term. But, in the long term, you’ll be just as affected by the general public’s perception that documentation is necessary as every other service dog team will be.
Part of handling a service dog is accepting that, at some point, you will be faced with a challenge to gain access to a place where you are legally permitted to be. In fact, it’s a significant part of the service dog lifestyle. (If more people knew all there is to know about service dogs, we wouldn’t need this website!) You neither need to be confrontational nor acquiescent to succeed in an access challenge. Practicing assertiveness and knowing your rights can go a long way.
What can be done about the unethical companies that offer registries and certification?
Certainly, don’t give them business in any way! Don’t forget that using their services isn’t the only way to send business their way. Simply linking to them or even mentioning specific companies by name, anywhere online, will improve their ranking in search engines- ultimately making them easier to find! Visiting their websites can even make them money.
Other things you can do are spread the word about why service dog handlers (or anyone otherwise) shouldn’t use the services these companies offer. Even more effective would be to educate local businesses, that you patronize, about not only what their rights are, but also about the Americans with Disabilities Act’s position on the certification and identification of service dog teams.
Why is it so important to prevent service dog handlers and others from using various forms of documentation?
Simply put: to preserve our rights. The United States is the one of the few countries that does not require certification of service dog teams. If that were to change, our rights to train and handle our dogs in the manner that best suits our needs can be taken away swiftly and easily. Don’t give the general public the impression that certification is necessary, because close behind the general public's perception, follows the risk of our rights being taken away.
Lex’s tag reads, “Service Dog in Training.”