B.C. Lawmakers Crack Down On Guide Dog Impersonators
They’re obedient, they’re well-mannered, and to the untrained eye, they are service dogs donned in the requisite gear and providing assistance to their physically, mentally or emotionally challenged owner.
But look closer, because these bogus boys are part of a growing challenge that has caused British Columbia to revise their Guide Dog and Service Dog Act.
Yes, believe it or not it’s called service animal impersonation and B.C. will be among the first in Canada to tackle an issue that experts say has escalated sharply in recent years.
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You see, where service dogs were once larger breeds and typically identifiable by their full body harness used in leading the visually impaired, today’s version have skill sets that address a host of other, less visible disabilities and run the gamut when it comes to size and breed. From alerting a hearing impaired owner to certain sounds, warning a diabetic of changes in blood sugar levels to providing therapy for those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, the growing diversity in skills and types of canines used as service dogs make it pretty tough to spot a cheat.
And in this entrepreneurial and internet-savvy world, fake ids and guide dog vests are just a click-of-the-mouse away.
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So why would a pet parent disguise their unsuspecting pooch as a service dog? Apparently motives range from reluctance to being separated from their little guy during air or rail travel, to getting the coveted thumbs up when bringing Rover into a restaurant to even securing the discounts offered by many veterinarians to clients with working dogs.
Okay, definitely Sneaky Pete manoeuvers, but who cares? Legitimate trainers do. The International Guide Dog Federation is concerned that without the rigorous training and socialization skills that service dogs receive to ensure they’re comfortable interacting with the public, the untrained animals can present a false sense of security to airlines, dining establishments and other pet owners who rightly expect certain behaviours.
With a lack of federal regulations around service animal registration, the B.C. law intends to tackle the problem by issuing all legitimate teams with provincial identity cards.
Dogs trained by schools accredited under the leading global regulatory bodies —the International Guide Dog Federation or Assistance Dogs International — will automatically receive a provincial ID. Those who seek canine partners from non-accredited facilities or take a do-it-yourself approach to training will have to have their pooches pass a provincial test to ensure their performance and behaviour are in line with international standards.
I guess this means the next time you try to enter a B.C. bar with Toto in tow, prepare to be carded!
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