Service Dogs and Parkinson’s at WPC 2013
September 11, 2013
Turning Heads in Montreal
October 13, 2013
Service Dogs and Parkinson’s at WPC 2013
September 11, 2013
Turning Heads in Montreal
October 13, 2013

Mad About Service Dogs

service_vest4blogMy Parkinson’s diagnosis has thrown – heaved – perspective on my views of daily life. The irk-factor is one example. Degenerative disease, here: it takes more than a  movie talker or airplane seat kicker to set me off.

When I do get annoyed, I clench. Jaw, fists, eyelids. It doesn’t happen often and when it does the yogi in me tries to breathe through it, let it go, talk it out. On occasion, I yell.

If annoyed moves into crazy-angry mode, I curl into a fetal position and cry. It takes something monstrous from daily life to get me there. Remember: Degenerative disease here. Incurable.

Well, I encountered my first service dog fake. Not only is it a challenge to type with my fingers curled, it’s hard to see the screen though this blur of tears.

I knew about them, heard stories. They clip a service dog vest purchased online onto the family pet. Service dog status gets Fido, Fifi or Fang out of being left home to chew on the furniture and into shows, restaurants, airplanes. I can think of an entire Scrabble board of words to describe someone who pretends to have a medical alert, physical disability or mental illness. I feel my entire body clenching at the utter lack of empathy, awareness, respect for a kid with a seizure-alert dog, a mom with MS, a soldier with PTSD.

Faking a service dog moves me directly to crazy-angry.

I needed only a few items at the local Market Basket. In fact, I think each one has already been consumed. But the moments of discovery, disgust keep replaying:

“Right,” I say to Sir Thomas and we turn and wheel the cart down the Coffee, Tea, Baking aisle. I smell cinnamon, morning blend. I can’t imagine all that he smells.

“Beautiful dog,” I hear about Sir Thomas. I stop and glance up. The stock clerk catches my eye before she looks at a woman’s further up by vanilla extract. The clerk smiles back at me and adds, “There’s a little one up there.”

I can see only the back of the woman but can tell she’s fumbling with whatever is in the front of her cart. Her purse? I see it move. The small dog is inside her purse. It growls.

I’m still stopped, standing beside neatly stacked boxes of lemon zinger. I hear yips, more growls. I can’t imagine what Tommy hears. But he doesn’t move.

The woman doesn’t move either, but for a quick turn of the head. In that moment, when her eyes land on the scene behind her of a woman and her service dog grocery shopping, the scene before me is clear.

She knows that I know. Her hands reach to hide the sides of the vest with the same stitched lettering as appears on Tommy’s vest. But her dog – her not-a-service dog – yips, growls and thrusts out from her attempted cover-up.

She keeps him from leaping out of the cart, mutters something to the stocker about how it would be easier if we weren’t all in the same aisle. The store clerk has turned her attention to her clipboard. The woman hesitates, waiting to see if I’ll oblige and turn around to make her life easier. Without a word, this lady-with-Parkinson’s (not to mention that stroke thing) remains by the tea, my well-behaved dog at my side, awaiting a clear path to that pound of coffee beans on my list.

Once we’re all in the car – groceries, Tommy and I – I wrap my hands around the steering wheel, squeezing it. I praise Tommy in the rear view mirror and tell him what good work he did. And then I fold. My head is on the steering wheel now as I cry into it.

If the stock clerk hadn’t been there, I’m thinking, hadn’t stood between us, hadn’t intercepted what might have been direct contact with a fraud, I might still be reaming out the imposter:

  • Do you have any idea how hard this is, how much work it is to day-to-day in a life that needs a service dog?
  • Do you seriously not notice the training difference? Do you ever go anywhere that the wait staff or shop owner says, “I didn’t even know there was a dog in here?”
  • Do you honestly feel okay about duping the public with your fake vest? Did you for even a moment consider how much the dog and handler have earned the privilege of donning the words Service Dog? If you think you have, think again. Think in years. The training takes years.
  • Do you have no sense of remorse for taking the support of stores such as the local Market Basket and tossing it in their face? Do you realize the damage you’re doing to those with legitimate service dogs when yours growls and snaps and gives store owners the right to ask you to leave?
  • Do you actually have the ability to consider that you are not the only person in town? Or at least the universe?
  • Do you truly believe that having Parkinson’s is worth it because I can take Tommy with me when I go out for ice cream?

Given the attempt to cover up when you saw the real thing, you at least know you were wrong. I can only hope – breathe – that your soul played a role. If it was only the desire not to get caught in your quick and easy (and illegal) trick then put some perspective into your scheme. You’ll need more than even a real service dog to get through the difficulties of daily life.



  1. Tina Shonk says:

    Wow! I have never been in close proximity to a fake service dog. I am physically fine, but the faker might not be after I was done… I admire both of you so much!

  2. Marilyn Sygrove says:

    Let me praise your for your restraint in these every day happenings, as well as extend my appreciation of your courage and strength to get through each day. It is blogs like this that bring more insight for those of us who do not have your struggles, and hopefully get through to the “fakers” who are doing such wrong to people like you and businesses that have to deal with unruly pets. Prayers to you as you undertake your difficult journey.

  3. I was in tears reading this. I think that I would have had a lot of words for this woman. It is easier for me, Dan can keep control of Casper while I have the opportunity to confront someone. I don’t do that kind of thing often, but in this case I imagine I would have been ranting.
    I sickens me that people think this is ok. What is worse is that it makes people see our amazing dogs as just pets we “get to” take with us. (I am sorry about the use of ‘we’ but Dan and I are those disgusting kind of people who always feel like a ‘we’ instead of an ‘I’) There was a wonderful post someone put on their Tumblr about people being mad about how we “get to” bring our dogs anywhere. I REALLY wish I could find that link right now. Like you, she goes into how hard it can be to do so. I shared it on Casper’s page last week. Hope you saw it.
    And just recently, after Dan and Casper were on the news, my mother told me that maybe we needed to take some responsibility and not take him into certain places to avoid things like small spaces and other people’s dogs. My. own. mother. It made me feel like this struggle to educate people was futile.
    I’m sorry… this has turned into a HUGE comment. I just was VERY moved by your post.

    • Renee says:

      How are Dan and Casper doing? I see pics on FB and both look good. And thank you for your kind words. We need to support each other on this journey! Ear scratches to Casper.

  4. Nancy Litman-Pulka says:

    My heart goes out to you,dealing with your disease. You and Sir Thomas have every right to be outraged with “fakers” and what they do to those people who need a service dog to get through their daily life. I am a supporter of a service dog organization and am appalled at what length people will go to to use “fake vests” for whatever reasons. You have so much more restraint that I would’ve. I would be locked up for what I would have done to that woman,,,I am proud of you for how well you handled the situation. May God bless you and Sir Thomas.

  5. Lori Schary says:

    I have MS as well as a service dog in (perpetual) training. If someone were to comment to me about “being able” to bring my dog with me, I would be more than happy to explain to them how I would love to trade in that “ability” for my health & mobility (I probably would not say it this nicely). I’m guessing (hoping) that would put things in a bit of perspective for others.

  6. Debra Merlino says:

    I am blessed to be mostly healthy and not need a service dog, and these fake service dogs anger me too. I have been told by numerous people that they got papers and a vest on the internet, “Just Google it!” Seeing the work that goes into training a service dog, whether it is a mobility dog or a seeing eye dog, this is just wrong! Unfortunately there is no real governing agency to complain to, we just have to be individually annoyed. Take a deep breath, hold you head up high, and march on with Sir Thomas. You are better than these people, don’t let them get you down.

  7. THis makes me see RED RED RED!!! How dare this selfish woman think that her precious dog should be with her everywhere she goes, just because she loves him. I love my dog too, but not being a service dog, I leave her home when I go shopping or anywhere el says:

    This article makes me see RED RED RED!!! How DARE this selfish woman bring her dog with her, just because she thinks she’s special. Well, let me tell you…. I’m special too, as is my dog. But I don’t need a service dog, and would NEVER put a sign on her saying she was. When I’m going into places inappropriate for dogs, I leave my dog at home, where she will be safe. Applause to all of you who stand up to these shameful pet owners who put “faker” blankets on their dogs. Shop owners and managers should be allowed to require “papers” to prove that their dog is a service dog as soon as he/she notices the dog barking, growling, or any other non-service dog behavior. Then that person needs to be banned from that shop when it’s revealed that they are fake. Service dogs would NEVER growl or bark, or anything else unless there was danger to their owner. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to spot the fakers. God Bless service dogs and those who need them. They make a great team!!

    • Edda-Jo Dobbs says:

      Sorry… I forgot to use my name on the above comment/ Guess I just got excited about the injustice

  8. I am so appalled by the actions of people who use the fake service vests. I do not know how you kept your composure. The actions and reactions of the small “purse pet” are not only a dead give away, but so are Tommy’s. The sad part about this is that any action taken against these idiots will do nothing but hurt those who honestly need and have trained service dogs. Maybe the action must be taken against the moron that is selling the vests. There has to be an answer because it is obvious that the users have no conscience, scruples, integrity, morals ………… God bless you.

  9. Renee says:

    Dear all,
    Your support is priceless. Thank you.
    Tommy thanks you.

  10. […] One of Casper’s cousins had a run in with this recently and just yesterday we were approached by someone saying how they wished they could take their dog everywhere. […]

  11. Donna leonard says:

    I am mostly ok, health wise, I have had five back surgeries and two neck due to a car accident. I have been in a walker and stuck at home for prolong periods due to not being able to walk… I can so feel some of the blessings that people with service dogs get with the freedom to go places they might not be able too.. I don’t know when people became so self centered.. I don’t have a service dog,( I do have two very sweet boxers who love me to death, at home) but I do have a handicap sticker for my car…. I do get told I’m a fraud on days that I might look ok walking… It used to bring me to tears, and I couldn’t even respond…one day my husband and I were getting out of his car in a parking lot and the meter maid said what makes him so special to get a handicap sticker,,, he never missed a beat…”you can have one too! All you have to do is have a stroke”. I will never understand why people think we are getting something special… I would gladly trade If they wanted too… You do your breathing and love that dog… You have the courage to try and live your life to the fullest even with all the challenges…. I just hope you don’t have to go through many of these situations … Yoga is just the best to help our minds with what the world throws at you… Bless you and Sir Thomas!,

  12. Kathleen Cuerdon-Kahn says:

    Here is an article about phony service dogs on Huffington Post today.

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