What A Service Dog Deserves

A garden gives us peace, tranquility –

a place to absorb our worries, allowing us to move forward.

In exchange for its service, it requires little:
some food for a strong foundation,
water for life,
a little structure,
and some support when needed.

A service dog requires no less.
In the news recently was a disturbing story of an “emotional support dog” that attacked a passenger on an airplane. The dog was apparently (illegally) seated on its handler’s lap, and assaulted the individual sitting in the adjacent seat as the plane pushed back for take-off.

It is a tragedy for all: the victim, the handler who fears the worst for his dog, and the dog who never should have been put in this position. It is also a tragedy for all properly trained and legitimate service dogs, and evidence of an increasing issue as more people turn to fake certificates to keep their untrained “service” or “support” dogs by their side.

In my last job, I experienced this first-hand. A “service dog” puppy whose vest was ordered online by a co-worker who just wanted his dog to come to work with him. And a mother of a severely autistic son scammed by a disreputable organization putting untrained dogs and their humans at great risk for financial gain.

Porsche is another example.

She was surrendered to us, fake certificate included, as a failed emotional support dog. Porsche was loved, but she was done a huge disservice.

Adopted at 3.5 months of age, she had clearly not been well-socialized. She was afraid of strangers and men in particular, was terrified of the leash, did not get along well with other dogs in her personal space, and probably spent the majority of her life in a cacooned existence.

Having developed her own anxieties, she was sent to “therapy” herself before being surrendered to us.

Porsche was never set up for success, failing even the most basic requirements of a service dog established by Assistance Dogs International.

Spring was just arriving as our team worked to get her to be comfortable being leashed, and to untuck her tail.

With summer around the corner, she is finally exhibiting some dog-like behaviors.

Porsche still has a ways to go, but inside this girl is a dog longing to be loved by someone willing to expand her world and show her the joy of being a true canine companion.

Today, she runs with exuberance,

attends carefully selected play groups, walks well on a leash, and – if you are one of her privileged few – comes just close enough to welcome a belly rub.

At a minimum, a service dog requires structure, training, and proper preventative health care.
But for their service and success, they deserve more: socialization for a strong foundation, respect for their ability to be a dog when not working, and our support when needed to be both emotionally and physically fulfilled.

For more information about the differences between service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs and their requirements, you can visit here.

Think you might be interested in adopting Porsche? Visit here!

14 comments

  1. I somehow had not heard the story of the incident on the airplane, but your re-telling of the events is truly heartbreaking. And to learn the story of Porsche hurts my heart, but what a loving and incredible rehabilitation you and other dedicated volunteers offer! If only I could expand my animal family just a bit wider! 🙂 I so deeply value and respect the work you do. And the lessons from that beautiful garden do inspire, as well!

    • We are certain we will find a perfect family for her – and that she is now ready to trust in that family. Thank you for your kind note, Debra!

  2. Jayne Bower

    Thanks you for this. It’s beautifully written and photographed. As a volunteer with a major service dog organization I wish more people understood what the term “service dog” really means and what it actually takes to make one.

    • I think that education around this issue helps everyone – including the dogs that are too often put in impossible situations and then abandoned. Thanks for the good work you do, Jayne.

  3. Oh course I would want this dog at The Holler, but we leave for the arctic in August.
    This reminds me of the people who brought fake service dogs to class when I was a college mental health director. I know how much you know about people and dogs like this, but seriously, you wouldn’t believe it. There were multiple distraught professors who called about situation like one student, with three service-vest clad chihuahuas, who snarled, nipped and disrupted her class. And there were more! Until I read this post, I didn’t realize it was a phenomena! I remember hauling the students, and dogs, into my office and listening to their explanations. As the three assistance vested chihuahuas pee’d, snarled, and behaved, well, like three ill-trained chihuahuas, I asked, what precise condition these dogs were assisting the student with. She said she had a nervous disorder. I swear these students were trying to be funny and did succeed.
    So I went on a trip to get away, to Antarctica, and what do I encounter on the deck of the ship????
    (I am telling you the truth, which is why I don’t tell these stories, people wouldn’t believe me.)
    I encounter a service vest clad chihuahua. I asked the owner, so what condition is this dog assisting you with? He said he was epileptic and the dog warned him of an upcoming seizure. I believed him, and the dog, and the chihuahua got to go to Antarctica.

    • I hope the Chihuahua had a big down jacket! Seriously, therapy, emotional support, and service dogs can serve many legitimate needs. But they also carry responsibilities, and are afforded different access privileges. It’s helpful to know and focus on those requirements to ensure a thoughtful and safe experience for all. Happy trails to you in August! Always off on a spectacular adventure. 🙂

  4. This is one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read. I’ve traveled quite a bit in the last month, and the number of “service/emotional support” dogs that I’ve seen has been quite disturbing. As you said, people who abuse this system serve such a disservice to those who truly need it and the well-trained dogs who actually deliver it. Thank you for the much-needed insight and for the work that Homeward Bound is doing for Porche.

  5. Oh my, you hit one of my hot buttons here so forgive me or just delete my comment altogether. I applaud the work a service dog does and all of the people involve in training them which allows them to support a person with physical or mental challenges. I think they should be allowed anywhere that individual is going. On the other hand, the idea of an ’emotional support dog’ has gone to proportions that infringes on the rights of the rest of us. I do not want to be putting my fresh produce in a grocery cart that was just vacated by someone’s pet, and I also don’t want to be eating at a restaurant next to one. This has become some type of fashion statement and not a medical requirement. Hope this pup along with all your others find a forever home. 🙂

  6. Mary Tonningsen

    Beautiful photos and an excellent and informative article! I was just told by a friend 2 nights ago that a friend of hers bought her small dog a fake service vest and ‘other credentials’ online. The reason? The dog freaks out when left alone at home, doesn’t like to be crated, and tears the house apart. Summer is upon us and the owner can’t leave the dog in the car, so now the dog has the vest and badges and can go to the store and other places with its owner and be safe, rather than stuck at home or in the hot car. I was livid! I have another friend who has (and needs) a real service dog. His dog is amazing and the most well-trained, well-tempered dog I’ve ever known. Totally reliable and a true gift to my friend, who could barely survive without him. And my friend is questioned constantly about this dogs credentials when he goes somewhere – probably because there are so many fakes out there now. It really fries me! What a shame that this has happened. Thank you for helping to bring this issue out in the open.

  7. I hope Porsche finds a good and loving home. I had not heard the airline story but just as well. I find those stories so terribly sad and often feel helpless to do anything about it. Shame on people for being so unscrupulous. I followed your link on the types of service dogs. Thanks for sharing. I have a friend with a therapy dog who acts as a companion for her college-aged daughter. The dog sits in her lap during classes and helps with acute anxiety.

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