As awareness of their necessity spreads, service dogs have been increasingly welcome in public spaces that usually ban dogs. In fact, the Americans With Disabilities Act requires they be allowed. Frustratingly though, there will always be people who defy the rules, which are established for a reason, and bring untrained animals into places where they shouldn’t be.
A video that recently went viral shows an interaction between a woman with a service dog and another with an emotional support dog. That video is now furthering the debate over the differences between service dogs and emotional support dogs.
“An emotional support dog is not a service dog”
The video is filmed by the shopper who needs her service dog by her side. Service dogs undergo a lot of training to do their important jobs, and a big part of that training is learning to tune out distractions and remain focused in public.
As the two were walking through the store, they encountered another dog. The other dog pulled on its leash as it lunged towards the service dog, barking and growling.
Astonished that this dog lunged at her service dog, the woman filming spoke up. The other dog’s owner then insisted he’s an emotional support dog.
Service animals and emotional support animals are not the same. As the videographer explains, “emotional support is not a service dog.”
RELATED: Important Differences Between Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, And Therapy Dogs
The owner of the barking dog then followed the woman and her service dog around the store, insisting that she needs her comfort dog for her anxiety.
“A service animal is a task trained dog to aid a disability, which can be done for panic disorder, but you need to train it,” the woman filming points out.
There’s also a difference between a pet-friendly store and a store that simply must allow trained service animals. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service animals must be allowed anywhere the public is.
The ADA also states, however, that service dogs do not include “emotional support or comfort dogs, because providing emotional support or comfort is not a task related to a person’s disability”. That means Walmart has to allow service animals, but they don’t have to allow emotional support animals.
That said, in situations where an employee isn’t sure whether a dog is a service animal or not, they can only ask two questions: 1) Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and 2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? They’re not allowed to ask for proof or documentation.
Whether this woman didn’t understand the rules or just didn’t care, it’s not great to have an untrained dog come shopping with you, especially if they have an issue with other dogs. You can watch the video of the encounter below.
An Ongoing Issue
This isn’t the only instance of a service animal vs. support animal debacle at Walmart. A diabetic alert dog named Hank accompanied his handler to Walmart, where they encountered another dog in the baking aisle.
Though the store is supposed to only allow service dogs, this dog was clearly not properly trained as it barked and lunged at Hank. The TikTok-er who posted the video of the encounter needs her service dog, and she ultimately cut her shopping trip short to evade this conflict.
The trouble is, it’s a difficult problem to solve, as it basically boils down to selfishness or ignorance. The best we can do is spread awareness of the importance of service dogs’ work and why the rules allow them as the exception. Of course we’d all love to be with our dogs all the time, but sometimes you have to know when the battle isn’t worth it.
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