This year has been a rough year on Instagram in the #servicedog community. This has been due to the “faker phenomenon” where someone either has faked having a service dog OR they have been accused of faking. This phenomena is largely due to online companies selling identification and online registries that exist primarily to let people take their dogs “everywhere” with them for “free”. (Not every registry exists for this reason, but many people will abuse the registries in this way anyway.)
Unfortunately, this has turned into a paranoia within the community- with the automatic assumption that every dog with either an ID or a registry tag is a “fake” service dog. This is not true! Legitimate teams register or order these products because they feel that it is a good thing to do. When they post a picture of their legitimately working dog wearing one of these IDs or logos, they receive an onslaught of hate mail from the #servicedog community. They are asked questions that directly violate their privilege to medical privacy (“How are you disabled?” “What is he a service dog for?” “What is your diagnosis?”). They are talked and gossiped about over group DMs where lies and hate are perpetuated. Then they are reported, blocked, their private posts are screenshot and reposted with horribly unedifying remarks about them and their service dog commented below or pasted across the photo. It’s horrible.
And this happens to legitimate teams, someone with a legitimate disability and a legitimate working dog (or a dog in training for service). By the very people who are supposed to be supporting them. This should never happen.
It really is nobody’s business.
But what should we do when someone on Instagram deliberately posts that they are faking their dog as a service dog? (Yes, this really does happen. People are really that low.) Should we attack them and hate them? Ask prying questions publicly to make them feel like fools of themselves? No.
What about the frequent occurrence when a Therapy Dog or an ESA (emotional support animal) is portrayed as going into public venues? (Emotional support dogs and Therapy Dogs are NOT service dogs, they must abide by different laws and rules.) Should we publicly humiliate these people who may just be confused about the ADA law? No.
These are real people with real feelings. Any confrontation should happen privately and respectfully. Why? Because this approach encourages change. It gives you the chance to connect with that person and to make a lasting impact in their lives in a positive way.
So, don’t comment publicly. Take it to DM and keep it private. Something I do is I leave a comment on their photo letting them know “I’m sending you a DM”. I’ll be sure to DM any commenters who asked “Cool! How can I do this for my dog?” or a similar question.
And this is the what I’ll privately send them:
“I wanted to privately inform you that registering a dog online, purchasing an ID, or buying a vest for a dog does not automatically give them service dog privileges. Many of these online stores exist primarily to take your money. A dog can only be considered a service dog when it is successfully trained to mitigate a disability by performing at least one trained task.
No item you purchase can do this for you. A dog is legally protected by ADA law in America to go into public places so long as it is trained specifically to mitigate your disability and can maintain the ADA standards for service dog behavior. (A common misconception is that “emotional support” makes a dog a service dog- but legally it does not count as a task and is specifically excluded from ADA law.)
My hope is that this message will reach you and prevent you from being tricked into the lies that some retail companies are promoting by selling you service dog ID’s or registrations. I sincerely thank you for your time in reading this!”
(it’s not perfect, but it’s at least a stark contrast against the abusive comments that have occurred all year long)
Just to be clear:
I am guilty. I am guilty for ever being a part of this, I am guilty of every public comment I may have made about someone’s legitimacy or in support of someone else’s accusation- but I am changing this now.
I ask for the forgiveness of any person who has ever had to block me for invading their privacy in this way. I truly am sorry, what I did was wrong and you should have never endured the embarrassment or humiliation I may have caused you.