By Frank Watson
Freelance Columnist 

Service Dogs


July 11, 2019

My television viewing is normally limited to the news, Mariner’s baseball and Gonzaga basketball. Shut in by bad weather a few weeks ago, I found myself temporarily out of library books, so I was daydreaming while a drama series played on my TV. I’m not really sure what series it was, but an embedded story caught my attention. It seems that one of the characters rescued a dog and had no place to keep it. Her landlord did not allow pets and she couldn’t take it to work. A co-worker came to her rescue with a vest proclaiming the new pet a service dog. As the co-worker pointed out, there are no established criteria for service dogs, and this one certainly gave comfort to its owner, so it must be qualified. With the vest, the owner was protected by law and could keep the pet in her apartment and take it where ever she wanted. This attitude is all too common and makes a mockery of all service dogs.

A few years ago, the only service dogs were specially trained guides that aided the blind. These highly respected animals made it possible for a sightless person to function. They were special and welcome anywhere their owner went. Then about seven years ago, a US army captain, severely wounded in Afghanistan, found a specially trained dog to be his salvation. The captain was traumatized from his experience to the point he could not function around people. His dog, Tuesday, was trained for his special needs. The captain wrote a wonderful book about his experience that quickly became a best seller. The book both publicized and promoted the use of specially trained dogs to help people with disabilities other than blindness. Most states enacted laws protecting owners of service dogs. As with many worthwhile programs, however, this one led to abuse. Blindness can easily be defined. PTSD, however, is hard for strangers to recognize. If depression due to combat qualifies for a service dog, why not all depression? If depression qualifies, why not unhappiness or discomfort? If a dog qualifies, why not a cat? If a cat, why not a pig or horse? Our state law is so ambiguous that it can be construed to include all animals that give comfort to anybody. One airline objected to a comfort peacock, but little else has been done to stem the abuse.

There would seem to be a need for a standard of what does and what does not qualify as a service animal, but even that is being abused. With one key stroke of my computer I found at least six websites offering service dog registration kits. For as little as $39 you can get a certificate, an ID card with your dog’s picture and a vest. Two sites advertise that your newly certified animal, no training required, can fly free. When I flew across the country to hunt with my son several years ago, I paid $150 and provided a crate for my trained bird dog to ride in the baggage hold. Now I can order a $39 kit and have my furry friend on the seat beside me. Something isn’t right here. If any animal can be a certified service animal, then all service animals are suspect. Even the courtesy we afford the blind is now viewed with suspicion.


Service dogs are a symptom of a nationwide trend of hijacking good intentions. Are we in danger of allowing abuse to destroy the integrity of valuable programs? Veterans who were disabled while serving our country have earned the programs designed for them. There are too many, however, who spent a two-year hitch as a company clerk in Fort Riley, Kansas and demand benefits for life. Our Social Security disability program is broken. If a person is persistent and finds the right advocate, they can be awarded benefits regardless of their physical condition. Our state programs are in much the same shape. TV ads openly offer to help you beat the system so as to receive public assistance. Something is wrong here.

(Frank Watson is a retired Air Force Colonel and a long time resident of Eastern Washington. He has been a free lance columnist for over 18 years.)


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