Category: Pet Welfare

Fake Service Animals: The Lasting Effects of Furry Fraud

This post has been sitting in my editorial calendar for some time.  Fake service animals are creating a host of problems for people with genuine need. The topic of service dog fraud is a difficult one, fraught with strong emotions on all sides.  It’s time to clear the air in a constructive way.

Service, assistance, or emotional support.  What’s the difference?

There are some misconceptions out there about what makes an animal a service animal.  There are key differences between service animals and emotional support animals.

A service animal is a working animal that has been trained to perform specific tasks to help someone with a disability.  By law, service animals may enter public areas, including airplanes and other public transportation, with their handlers. Consequently, these animals must be well-trained, and cannot present a physical danger.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recognizes only dogs and miniature horses as service animals.

An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that provides companionship and emotional support for those diagnosed with a psychological disorder.  These animals do not have to be trained for a specific task.  Airlines allow ESAs on airplanes under the Air Carrier’s Act.

Both service animals and emotional support animals fit under the umbrella of assistance animals.  However, emotional support animals do not have the same protection under the law as do service animals.

Service Animal Certification

Some organizations legitimately train and certify service animals.  However, the law does not require service animals to undergo certification.  Training programs for service animals are generally quite costly.  For instance, it takes about $50,000 to train a dog through Guiding Eyes for the Blind.  Such high costs may be a barrier for some people with disabilities. Although Guiding Eyes, like many non-profits, provides these dogs free of charge to people who need them, they can’t help everyone.  For this reason,those with disabilities may legally train their own animals.

It is against the law to require a handler of a service animal to present proof of disability.  In contrast, employees may ask the handlers of ESAs to present documentation from a health care provider.  By law, airlines may require this documentation before accommodating an emotional support animal.

Service animal fraud

Because  the law does not require handlers to provide documentation of disability, it is relatively easy to pass a dog off as a genuine service animal.  And there are organizations in the US that will provide documentation for an emotional support animal at low cost.  This documentation may not meet the requirements for legal documentation based on a medical diagnosis.  For these reasons, it is inexpensive and relatively simple to fraudulently claim that a pet is an assistance animal.

Why would pet parents want to commit assistance animal fraud?  Restrictions on pets and the costs of pet care are two drivers of the increase in fake assistance animals. And some people view this type of fraud as a harmless act.

Tight restrictions  on where pets may accompany their owners in the US are frustrating to many pet parents.  At a time when an owners view pets as members of the family, pet parents are pushing back against what they see as unnecessary restrictions on pets.  Claiming that a pet is an assistance animal is one way, perhaps the easiest way, to circumvent these restrictions.

Another reason people may fraudulently claim their pet as an assistance animal is to avoid some of the costs of pet care.  Under the Fair Housing Act, those with assistance animals do not pay additional pet rent or fees.  Just like service animals, emotional support animals do not incur airline fees.

Finally, people may view assistance animal fraud as a victimless act.  “Does it really hurt anyone for me to use existing laws to take my pet into this restaurant?  On this bus?” some may ask.  Well, the issue may be more complex than it seems at first glance.

What’s the problem with fake service animals?

The AVMA has released a position paper on Assistance Animal Fraud.  The paper outlines three main problems that assistance animal fraud may cause.  Service animal fraud makes it harder for those who need real assistance animals to consistently obtain reasonable accommodation.  Fraud also causes decreased goodwill for service animals and may lead to decreased access for those who need them. And finally, the large numbers of fake service animals make it harder for real service animals to do their job.

Decreased good will

How do fake service animals make it harder for real service animals?  One problem is that this fraud decreases goodwill for those who genuinely need assistance.  When poorly-trained fake assistance animals act out in a public space, the public becomes less tolerant and more suspicious of all service animals.  Recently, there have even been cases in which fraudulent assistance animals have become aggressive and injured people.

If people are suspicious of service animals, it is harder for those who need them to seamlessly use their animals in public.  The law does not require service animals to wear a vest or other identification. When the handler of a service animal has an obvious disability, such as blindness, it’s pretty easy to recognize that the service animal is genuine.  In these cases, the handler usually encounters no problem with getting reasonable accommodation.  But what happens when the handler has a less visible disability, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or epilepsy?

Service dogs may be trained to detect the onset of anxiety attacks or seizures.  They may learn special tasks to help those with anxiety disorders or PTSD.  These tasks may include placing their bodies between their handlers and others in a room, leaning on the handler during times of stress to provide physical comfort, or other subtle behaviors.  Because the handler may look and act “normal,” people may suspect that the service dog is unnecessary, and some may even accuse the handler of fraud.

Decreased access

The rise in assistance animal fraud has led state legislatures to comtemplate, and in some cases to pass, legislation that increases barriers to access for those who need an assistance animal.  Such bills may require training certification (this increases the costs to those with disabilities) or proof of disability.   Some handlers are concerned that states may refuse to acknowledge the need for service animals in cases of psychological disorders.

Decreased ability to do the job

The presence of poorly trained animals in public spaces sometimes makes it hard for service animals to do their job.  A service animal is trained to ignore distractions, including other animals.  But a reactive or even friendly animal may attempt to interact with the service animal.   A disruptive animal may force the handler to stop or to move around the other animal.  As a worst-case scenario, other animals may attack and injure the service animal.

What are potential solutions to the problem?

The AVMA lays out some potential solutions to help prevent assistance animal fraud.

    1. Make the laws and legal definitions for assistance animals more consistent from state to state.
      Consistent definitions will allow the public to distinguish real and fake assistance animals.  Consistent laws will help employees to know when they must make reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal, and when it is acceptable to limit access.  If any service animal is disruptive or dangerous, for example, an employee may ask the handler to leave or take the animal outside.
    2. Make it harder to obtain fraudulent materials and certifications for assistance animals.
    3. Make it easier for pets to accompany their owners in public spaces.
    4. Provide broader access for emotional support animals.

What can pet parents do about this problem?

Pet parents and the public can address this problem by increasing awareness, working to pass pet-friendly legislation, and ensuring that pets are well-trained.  Let people know that passing off a pet as an assistance animal is not only illegal, but it also creates real problems for the genuinely disabled.   Get involved at the local and state level. Rromote pet-friendly legislation that makes it easier for everyone to take their pet with them in public spaces.  Finally, make sure your pets are well-trained.  Increasing public access for pets requires that pets be well behaved.  Take a Canine Good Citizen certification course or basic obedience training for your pet.

Support organizations that provide service animals at low or no cost to those who need them.  Warrior’s Best Friend,  Battle Buddy Service DogsFreedom Service Dogs, Little Angels Service Dogs, KSDS Assistance DogsGuiding Eyes for the Blind, Canine Companions for Independence, and many others are working to ensure that service animals are there for the people in need.

And for those who use and will continue to use a fraudulent service animal, it is on you to ensure that the animal is as well trained as a real service animal.

 

Travel with a Pet: Plan Ahead for Success

Should you travel with a pet? This is not a rhetorical question. You should ask yourself this before every trip.  Not every trip is pet-friendly, and not every pet is travel-friendly.

If thinking about leaving your pet with another caretaker for a week or more leaves you with hives or a deep sense of guilt, remember that everyone needs a break now and then.  A short pause from the routine of pet care may be just what you and your pet need.  Even if you aren’t feeling overwhelmed, letting go of daily pet care for a short time can help you be a better pet parent when you get home

Should you travel with your dog?

Will your trip include activities suitable for your dog?  Dogs make lousy luggage.  If you take your dog with you, do it for the right reason:  to include your dog in the vacation.

Always check ahead to make sure that your destination is dog-friendly. If you are traveling to a National Park, for example, consider leaving your dog home.  Dogs are not allowed on most trails in US National Parks.  I recently visited Yellowstone and saw many dogs hanging out in the car while their owners hiked.  Trust me, your dog will not enjoy this, and as the summer heats up it will be downright dangerous.  (The trails can be downright dangerous for pets, too, especially while bears are active).

Should you travel with your cat?

This is entirely up to your cat.  If your cat doesn’t mind getting into a carrier and loves to experience novel situations, she may make a better travel partner than a dog.  If not, so many things can go wrong, including stress-induced illness or destructive behavior at your destination.

The best way to ensure that your cat is travel-friendly is to acclimate him to a carrier and car travel, just as you would crate train a dog.  This should be done slowly, making the experience positive and gradually increasing the amount of time he spends in the carrier and in the car.

Make your next trip with your pet smooth traveling. Get our Free Pet Travel Cheat Sheet!

Subscribe to get our free cheat sheet for successful travel with a pet!

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

Road trip vs air travel

Are you considering taking your pet on a plane?  If your pet will fit under an airline seat, travel in the cabin may be possible.  If not, remember that travel outside the cabin is stressful for pets and can be dangerous. Unless your stay will be more than a couple of weeks, it may simply not be worth the expense and the risk to take larger dogs with you via plane.

If you are taking your pet as a carry-on, be sure that your pet is comfortable in the carrier.  If your pet is unable to sit quietly in her carrier in an unfamiliar environment for a couple of hours or more, she is not a good candidate for air travel.  Airplanes are close quarters, and you may be seated next to someone who fears or is allergic to dogs or cats.  And nobody wants to listen to a whining cat or barking dog on a flight.

If you travel by car, there are some things to consider.  If your trip will take  more than a few hours of driving, think about what you will do with your pet when you stop for meals.  You may need to pack a picnic lunch or use a drive-through and eat outside where your pet can join you.  Does your dog do well with long car rides?  if not, breaking the trip up into shorter drives may help.

Planning your trip

If you have carefully considered and planned a trip that includes your pet, the following planning tips will help you make the journey safely and conveniently.

Two to six months before you leave:

  1. Book a pet-friendly hotel.
  2. If you are planning foreign travel, check up on requirements to bring animals into your destination country.
  3. Plan several pet-friendly activities in addition to your human-centered vacation fun.
  4. Make arrangements for local dog daycare at your destination if you are planning any activities in which your dog can’t take part.

One month before you leave:

  1. Ensure that vaccinations and flea/tick/heartworm preventatives are up to date.
  2. If you are traveling out of the country, get your pet’s required health examination
  3. Have your pet microchipped if he isn’t already.  Keep your microchip information with you.
  4. Get an identification tag and make sure your pet wears it.
  5. Copy your pet’s medical records and license information to take with you.
  6. Identify a veterinary practice and emergency practice near your destination.  Save the contact information and keep it with your pet’s records.
  7. Refill medications if needed

Packing your bags

Bring these items to ensure hassle-free travel

travel with a pet travel with a dog, suitcase, dog travel, pet travel

  1. Food and measuring cup
  2. Food water bowls
  3. Portable water bowl for road stops and hiking
  4. Medications,
  5. Toys
  6. First aid kit
  7. Brush and grooming tools
  8. Your pet’s favorite blanket
  9. Travel carrier with a blanket or pad to go underneath
  10. Dog poop bags.
  11. LItter box

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

 

Fostering Pets Is a Win for Everyone

Pet foster programs are on the rise, and why not?  Fostering pets is a win for everyone.  Here are some reasons why you should consider becoming a pet foster parent.

Experience all the love without long-term commitment

I have heard too often from people who have recently lost pets that they will not replace their beloved friend.  For some people, the grief associated with losing a companion of many years outweighs the joy they share with their pets while they are alive.  Fostering provides a great solution for these people, who otherwise would miss out on the benefits of pet parenting.  The foster relationship is meant to be temporary, and knowing that at the outset can help prevent grief when the foster pet is adopted to a forever home.  Plus, the anticipation of bringing in and getting to know a new foster pet can also help ease the pain.

Fostering is perfect for those who may not want to commit long-term to a pet due to life circumstances.  Those whose work requires extended business travel or frequent moves and those anticipating a major life change may find that fostering provides a way to enjoy a pet for the short term.   Fostering is a great solution for those who are older and fear making a long-term commitment to a pet for health or other reasons.

A word of caution: fostering is probably not the solution for those who are on the fence about pet ownership.  Pets that are fostered may have special needs for attention and training that only a truly dedicated foster parent can provide.  Fostering should not be viewed as a rent to own program.  It’s a serious, if short-term, commitment.

Increase adoptions

Pets that aren’t adopted quickly from the shelter may need a loving foster home to help them shine.  Whether there are behavior issues that must be addressed, or simply a need for affection and confidence, these pets may become more adoptable after they are fostered.  Foster parents have the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of these pets.

Free up space in shelters

Shelters struggle to find places for all the pets that need help. Fostering pets reduces stocking pressure and provides homeless pets with a safe and nurturing environment while they wait to be adopted.  In extreme cases, fostering a dog that otherwise may not find a place in a shelter can prevent euthanasia. Some rescue organizations work solely through fostering.  This practice eliminates land, building, and maintenance costs.  Donations may go farther when the costs of sheltering and feeding a pet are assumed by foster parents rather than a centralized shelter.

Build community

Most rescue organizations provide training and support for foster parents.  Foster parents often build rich and lasting friendships through local networks.  And foster parents build the community of pet owners by helping a loving family adopt a new pet.  Parents of a foster animal often keep in touch with the forever family and provide additional support.

Are you a foster parent?  Comment below and share your story!

photo credit: Yvonne Kubo

Don’t Move to the Suburbs to Please Your Pet. City Dogs May Be Happier.

Millennials are buying suburban houses to please their pets. But does the change in lifestyle really benefit their dogs?  Probably not. Here’s why city dogs may be happier.

According to a recent report in Time, millennials are leaving cities to buy homes in the suburbs because of their dogs.  There’s a perceived benefit to larger homes and big yards. But the benefit may be more about convenience for the humans than happiness for the dogs.  We have kept dogs in rural, suburban, and city environments.  Here are four reasons we think our dogs are happier in the city.

1. The walkies

Walks are the number one reason city dogs may be happier.  As apartment dwellers, we spend more time walking our dogs each day than we ever did in the suburbs.  This means not only more exercise for all of us, but more time spent interacting with our dogs.  Walkies are mandatory, and the dogs allow no procrastination.   In addition to quick trips down to the dog park for sanitary purposes and play, we also make several long walks around the city each week.

Although suburban areas may boast more dedicated walking trails, neighborhoods within cities are often better connected by sidewalks and other pedestrian ways.  From our front door, we can walk for miles in almost any direction and never leave the sidewalk.  Public green spaces and dog parks are concentrated into a smaller area and are more accessible by foot in urban areas.  Unlike the suburbs, cities offer diverse sights and experiences for both pets and people.

Dogs walked in crowded urban spaces often require more training and better leash skills than their suburban counterparts.  Dogs enjoy learning and need to be challenged throughout their lives.  Daily walks provide a time for reinforcing leash training and building a stronger human/dog bond.

2. The dog-friendly spaces

There are more dog-friendly public spaces within walking distance in the city.  City dogs enjoy spending more time with their parents on the patio at local coffee shops, bars, and restaurants.  Most dog-friendly eateries offer fresh water for pets, and many provide treats for their canine patrons, too.

3. The socialization

City dogs get more socialization opportunities than suburban dogs.  Dog parks are increasingly offered as an amenity in rental communities.  We are among the growing number of renters with access to a private dog park.  As a result, our dogs interact with other dogs every day.  And because city dwellers generally have smaller homes and must be more conscious about separation-related behavior issues, city dogs are more likely to go to day care when their parents are away.

Subscribe to get the latest updates in pet health.

We'll keep you informed when there is new research on this and other pet health topics.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

4. The tribe

Most city dogs end up with their own tribe of ardent fans.  Our dog Wesley is a crowd pleaser wherever he goes, and he thrives on the attention.  It’s safe to say that social dogs like Wesley get a lot of pleasure from interacting with a variety of people.  When handled appropriately, the increased exposure to many different people can help shy dogs become more tolerant and confident.

Does a Yard Really Make a Dog Happier?

The biggest downside for the city dweller is not having access to a yard.  Having a yard is undeniably much more convenient for dog parents.  There’s no need to rush outside with the dog in freezing weather or rain, and walks can be scheduled at the parent’s convenience, instead of through necessity.  However, the benefit of a yard to dogs is not as clear.

Having a yard means that a dog can go outside more frequently during the day.  Going outside more frequently doesn’t necessarily mean that a dog will get more beneficial exercise, especially if his owners forego regular walks.   Remember that dogs left to their own devices spend only about five minutes a day running and 68 minutes a day walking.  The majority of your dog’s day is spent sleeping or resting (about 19.4 hours), whether inside or out.

Giving a dog unsupervised access to a yard may lead to some unpleasant surprises.  The dog may dig or bark at passersby.  Even worse, the dog may get out of the yard and wander off.  Although there isn’t good data available, it seems more likely that a dog let out into the yard is more likely to escape than a city dog that is walked on a leash.

Your dog can be happy whether you choose to live in the city or in the suburbs.  It’s a mistake to think that suburban life on its own, will make your dog happier.  What is important is that you spend quality time with your dog every day.

What do you think?  Are you looking to move out of the city?  Are you living in the city and loving it?  Or are you and your dog sitting pretty in a suburban home?  Comment below to share your story.

 

 

 

Strategies for Successful Pet Adoptions

In the recent post When A Pet Must Go, we discussed resources and alternatives to shelters that are available to pet parents who are struggling with their pets. Today, we will look at ways to make sure pet adoptions match the right pets to the best homes.  Two very different adoptions demonstrate what works and what to avoid when you are looking for a new pet.

Seamus

Last year a friend of mine rescued a shelter dog. Like many potential adopters, he scouted local shelter dogs online.  He fell in love with Seamus, a dog who looked like the perfect friend.  He and his partner went to the shelter, met Seamus, and took him home the same day.  Sadly, within two months of his adoption this boisterous, large-breed dog had to be rehomed. What went wrong?  How did a conscientious and exuberant adopter end up with a dog he couldn’t keep?  I spoke with my friend last week about his experience and the lessons he learned.

In December of 2016, my friend and his partner had just moved into a new home together.  They were looking for a dog to join their family.  They had set their sights on Seamus after viewing his photo online, and the shelter didn’t provide much history.  My friend knew only that Seamus was about 1.5 years old and that he had been on the streets for a while before coming to the shelter.  Seamus was recently neutered.  The shelter did not discuss the dog’s temperament or talk about the sort of home that would be best for him.

At home, Seamus was rowdy, and it was clear to my friend that he had not been properly socialized.  He was destructive when left alone.  My friend worked from home a couple of weeks in order to spend time with Seamus and acclimate him to his new home.  However, the behavior problems persisted, and Seamus ultimately became aggressive to my friend’s partner.  Fortunately, my friend was able to quickly rehome Seamus with a relative.  Seamus currently has plenty of space to work out his high energy, and he is doing well.

Sir Miles

Ultimately, my friend was able to adopt a dog suited to his lifestyle and personality. The lessons he learned from his experience with Seamus helped him approach this adoption very differently.  He and his partner looked at several different dogs, and they took their time to make a decision.  When they found Sir Miles, they visited him on multiple occasions at his foster home.  They even brought him to their home to see how he reacted.  His background was appropriate for the family.  He had been an owned dog, but his owner had to give him up because he was not able to spend enough time with him.  Sir Miles settled into his new home well, and he is a much-loved family member.  My friend has even met his former owner via social media and shares updates about Sir Miles with him.

The role of the shelter

One of the most important lessons my friend learned from his adoption of Seamus is that not every pet is right for every household. A good shelter will work with adopters to help them understand what breed or type of pet is best for them.  I spoke with Ms. Casey Waugh from Wayside Waifs to find out how her organization helps create adoption successes.  At Wayside Waifs, successful pet adoptions begin with intake of the animal.  The shelter collects information about every animal surrendered.  A behavioral team assesses and works with the animals.  There is even a running club that allows volunteers to run with dogs and assess whether they will make good running partners.  Adoption counselors use information about the adopting family and information about the animals in the shelter to make recommendations for adoption.  The group contacts landlords directly to ensure that renters will be able to keep their pet.

Potential adopters are encouraged to spend time with the pets at the shelter.  Those looking to adopt animals that have been in the shelter for a longer period of time may take the dogs home for a “Slumber Pawty,”  generally 7-days or less.  This helps ensure that the pet is a good fit in the home.  Finally, adoption counselors follow up on every adoption to identify and solve any developing problems.

Checklist for successful adoption

  1. Plan for adoption and don’t get caught up in the excitement of the moment.  Rushing to pick a new pet can lead to an emotional choice.
  2. Be realistic about your needs and abilities.  You may feel very compassionate and want to rescue a pet with behavior problems.  If you don’t have the experience or temperament to train or the budget to hire a trainer you and your new pet will not be happy.
  3. Be open with the shelter about your lifestyle.  The shelter will make better recommendations if they understand your needs.  If you don’t have a lot of time to spend with a new pet, be clear about that up front.
  4. Look at more than one potential pet and take the time to learn about their backgrounds.
  5. Spend time with the pet, in your home if possible.
  6. Stay in touch with the shelter and ask for help if you encounter problems.
pet adoptions, dog,dogs, cat, cats, sheoter
Six tips for successful pet adoptions

featured image: AdobeSpark