It’s guest post time again. Here’s my husband Mike Knezovich.
Dogs ain’t the problem.
It’s Westminster Dog Show time — bringing infinite Facebook posts of mugshots of canine contestants, and, for those of us who love that kind of thing, internal laughs just thinking about the movie spoof set at this annual event, “Best in Show.” (Best line from the movie: “We met at Starbucks — not at the same Starbucks. We saw each other at two different Starbucks across the street from each other.”
Apparently, though, Westminster also brings a behavior that is absolutely not funny. Before and after the show, airliners in and out of town are filled with an inordinate number of “service dogs,” at least according to this blog post at The Bark.
The author of that blog post has traveled to many Westminsters and notices that lots of folks bringing their dogs to the show falsely claim their pooches are service dogs. I get why these people want to do that—I don’t get, never will, why they don’t understand why they absolutely shouldn’t.
There are two issues going on here: one, outright lying about the status of one’s dog and one’s disability (or lack thereof). The other issue is stickier: what kinds of dogs qualify as service dogs—more to the point—what kinds of disabilities/maladies constitute a legitimate need for a service dog to travel on a plane with its companion.
Warning: I am a hawk on both fronts.
On the first, there is no wiggle room. You’re lying. You’re disrespecting people who really need the dog for basic issues like mobility, and all the work The Seeing Eye and others have done to advocate for guide dogs to be admitted to public places. And all the work the respected schools do breeding and training a dog to behave flawlessly so as not to be a nuisance in public.
I got news for you dog lovers who think it’s cute to lie about your dog: It ain’t. And Beth and I have encountered it countless times. A young woman who sat next to Beth on a flight actually told the story, giggling throughout, about how her father regularly dons a pair of dark glasses and puts a fake harness he fashioned onto their German Shepherd so the dog can go on board with them. Haha.
Other news flash for you who think your dog is as well-behaved as a well-trained service dog. It ain’t. And every time your dog acts up, it’s an insult to everyone who really needs their dog, and to the airlines, hotels, restaurants and stores who are trying to do what’s right.
How do I know this? Well, years of experience. But I’ll bring up the most recent. While Beth and Whitney and I waited to check our bags to fly to New Orleans, a woman was making herself very conspicuous as she barked at the airline employee behind the counter. Conspicuous because she was very tall and very broad and wearing a leopard skin jacket and skirt. She had one of those luggage arrangements that looks like a wheelie luggage skyscraper. Down at the bottom was the actual wheelie suitcase; strapped above were several floors of who knows what.
She was up there for probably 10 minutes as we weaved our way through the maze. We checked in, headed to the gate and passed her just as she was about, finally, to wheel away from the counter. At that point a whir of grey and white spun around near the top of her little tower—two dogs were in a fabric cage of sorts with a screen in front, and shrieking barks—or something like barks—pierced the air.
The airline person said, “Oh, I didn’t realize–there will be a charge for those dogs.” At which point, the woman said, “Oh, those are my assistance dogs.”
I’m pretty sure the only person in that exchange who needed assistance was the poor airline rep. Beth wanted to ask the conspicuous woman what her dogs did for her, but I herded us on—not because I didn’t want conflict, but because when I travel, I’m crazy nervous until my butt is in the airplane seat.
Which brings me to the second issue. I’ve met people in wheelchairs who have dogs who provide critical assistance. And dogs that help people with hearing impairments.
But I’ve also met people who swear they need their dog for anxiety they experience when flying. My glib answer is, “Try alcohol. Or Dramamine.” I’m only half kidding; I had a short period where out of the blue, I had high anxiety on planes. Those two substances worked wonders.
But I’m also familiar enough with mental health issues to take them seriously. If a dog can help, good. But if the dog is not extremely well-trained, that dog doesn’t belong in public spaces. These people are basically bringing on their pets. I know you all love your pets, but many pets are not reliably well-behaved enough to bring them on planes.
I’m not sure where the line is. The government and the many, many legitimate organizations that train and match service dogs with human companions wrestle with it. Then again, the abuses seem obvious when encountered. As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote of hard-core pornography, “I know it when I see it.”
I’ve seen too much of it.