Thursday, June 22, 2017

Service... or Selfish?

            I am a HUGE animal lover. Meet me for about five seconds and you will know it’s as real as NYC humidity in the summertime. I’m the gal who regularly approaches restaurant guests and asks them if the adorable dog on their phone screensaver is theirs. I’m that crazy woman who hugs random dogs she meets on the street daily. I’ve owned bunnies, a turtle, a dog, a bearded dragon and lived with my roommate’s cats for over four years. So yes, animals are super cool in my book. I would love nothing better than to have an animal for my companion wherever I go.  But when I heard about someone who gave their TURKEY a seat on the plane next to them, stating it was a service animal, I had to wonder… have we gone a little too far?

            In all fairness, I will say that the gobbler in question had legit papers documenting its role as a “service animal” to provide emotional support to its owner who had a fear of flying. Personally, a duck would probably be my bird of choice, but I digress. Apparently emotional support animals on planes are fairly common. And when it’s a genuine need, I’m ALL for it. Heck, I’ll be the one running down the aisle of the plane to meet the fowl in question! It’s just hard to assess at times… what is the exact need? I was sitting at a restaurant bar the other night, and I noticed a dog sitting under someone’s table. When I asked my bartender friend what the dog was doing there, he said, “It’s a service dog,” as he made air quotes. Apparently you can’t ask people for papers to prove an animal’s status because it’s considered discriminatory. I mean, who seriously wants to be the employee that asks a guest to provide papers for their service animal when it turns out to be legit? Can you say lawsuit? 

But I’m beginning to wonder, how often is the need truly legit and how often does the said person have the papers to back it up if asked? How many fakers are out there? After all, you can readily purchase “Service Dog” vests for your pets on the internet, including on Amazon. And it should be noted that service animals fly for FREE. I read an article about a woman who takes her dog everywhere and has a vest with false credentials for her beloved pooch. She claims she just can’t BEAR to leave her dog at home and the bonus is she doesn’t pay a DIME to take him along for the ride. And the animal lover in me gets it. I do. I am also a dog walker, and I am madly in love with all my canine clients. I dog sit when my clients go out of town and become “surrogate owner” while they are gone. But I would never DREAM of plopping a service vest on one of my fur babies just so I can take them grocery shopping or set them under my table during an intimate dinner at a candlelit restaurant! People, it is a health code violation to bring animals inside restaurants or anywhere food is served! So unless you have a REAL need for your animal due to a physical or emotional disability, you are breaking the law and violating the moral code of being a good person! And now that summer has arrived, you have the joy of sitting outside with your cherished tail-wagger in appropriately designated areas of restaurants. So why not do that instead?

            And organizations that support authorized service animals are not any happier than I am. They state since bogus service animals are not trained, problems can occur at airports and other places where they are taken. A service animal is properly taught to remain calm and stay with their owner. While you may think your dog is the best-behaved dog ever and that he or she LOVES everyone, the reality is dogs are like small children. Dogs like to play and they like to say hello to other dogs (and humans). Issues have arisen at airports where a legitimate service dog is accosted by a faker and havoc ensues for the owner requiring true assistance from their service animal. My mom’s friend has a blind nephew and his service dog is his lifeline. My blood starts to boil at the thought of a fraudulent service dog pouncing on the nephew’s guide dog (even in fun), and inadvertently scaring him or worse. Service dogs have a job to do. If you want to engage in puppy playtime, take off the phony vest and go to a dog park.

            I recently worked a private event for an organization that provides dogs to prisoners as a means of rehabilitation. Hearing prisoners talk about how their dog changed their life was truly moving. And for those of us that have pets purely for pleasure, it’s equally moving and beautiful. Just recognize the boundaries. Loving your animal is what you are SUPPOSED TO DO. There is nothing more heartbreaking than a neglected animal. The commercials where Sarah McLaughlin’s voice rings in the background have taught us all that. But loving your animal to the point where you neglect OTHER PEOPLE’S feelings and needs is just plain selfish. Know the difference and act accordingly.

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