Jon Woodward, CTV News Vancouver
Published Monday, June 10, 2019 6:38PM PDT
Last Updated Monday, June 10, 2019 6:55PM PDT
Too many incidents of “emotional support dogs” looking like trained service dogs but behaving badly – sometimes even going on the attack – has a B.C. charity issuing a public warning.
The untrained dogs can be a menace and can also give the service dogs that help people with disabilities a bad name, making it harder for their owners to be welcomed in shops and public services, says Laura Watamanuk, the executive director of Pacific Assistance Dogs (PADS_.
It’s so easy to get a vest for a dog that says “service dog” online – even plastic ID that looks comparable to the B.C. government certification – it can be hard to tell the difference between a dog and a glorified pet, she said.
“It is really disheartening when someone goes online and purchases a cape and an ID to get easy access for a personal pet,” said Watamanuk.
“It’s a danger for our clients. We’ve had too many incidents where someone’s dog has attacked our dogs. For someone who is sight impaired, to have an untrained dog in public that jeopardizes their personal safety – it’s unacceptable,” she said.
In May, a man on a flight from Atlanta sued Delta Airlines when he said he was mauled in the face by an “emotional support” chocolate labrador-pointer mix. And in February, the mother of a five-year-old girl who had been bitten in the face by an “emotional support” pit bill in the Portland Airport sued as well.
In 2016, the B.C. government passed a law that required service dogs to pass a test before they could identify themselves as service dogs and be treated like them in public spaces like transit or restaurants.
The dogs are given a card that looks like a B.C. drivers licence that they can present if questioned. Failure to register can result in fines.
The B.C. government has received two complaints a year about false representation of dogs. It couldn’t provide CTV News with any information about how many dogs had been licensed under those rules.
Online retailers appear to be ignoring the rules completely. Amazon.ca sells vests and ID kits that would allow a dog owner to outfit their untrained pet to appear to be a service dog.
And ServiceDogCanada.com offers a kit that shows an ID and purports to help a dog owner train their dog to a standard.
Paul Bowskill, who operates the website, told CTV News Vancouver from Hawaii that he rejects the provincial government’s definition of a service dog. He used the example of a dog that recognizes lower blood sugar in a diabetic – but might not be able to pass all of the B.C. government tests.
“The piece of paper has nothing to do with making a service dog a dog,” he said. “It’s a person’s disability and the help of the dog that qualifies it as a service dog.”
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has ruled against a woman who claimed her son’s pit bull was a service dog and removing it from a strata would compound her son’s disability.
The woman lost her case, but the tribunal was willing to consider the argument that someone with a disability may deserve to keep a pet even if that pet isn’t a certified service dog.
There’s also a supply issue: PADS says it trains about 30 dogs a year, but has heard expressions of interest from over 200 people.
But Watamanuk says it’s worth the wait, pointing to Gucci, a service dog on her way to a deserving owner.
“We ensure they’re not going to be a nuisance in the public. They’re well-behaved. Well-mannered. They’re seen and not heard. We want dogs that are bombproof in the community,” she said.