3 Things the General Public is Unaware of Regarding Service Dogs

3 Things the General Public is Unaware of Regarding Service Dogs

Meet Pono,

My 3 year old English Mastiff rescued in March of 2018 from a Hoarding situation in Carlsbad, CA.

A woman was breeding and hoarding English Mastiffs illegally in her Carlsbad home. After her home caught on fire, Pono and 48 other mastiffs were rescued and removed from her home. They were quickly deemed “unfit” for adoption and would have all be euthonized had it not been for some very selfless volunteers at the Carlsbad Animal Shelter located off Palomar Airport Road in Carlsbad.

Fast forward to July 2018,

I endured a nightmare that I would never wish upon anyone, ever. I suffered the loss of an unborn child due to a very violent attack that nearly took my life. A criminal case is currently in process and has been draining to say the least. The perpetrator whom I wish not to mention, is facing 4-10 years in prison after the trial is complete.

I was relocated with my daughter through a victims advocacy and safety program to a new home, along with a “new” PTSD diagnosis. The prescription? Counseling and a service dog.

What makes my case interesting is my pre-existing seizure disorder. Couple that with emotional triggers due to PTSD and you have a very serious problem. Uncontrolled seizures can result in loss of driving privileges and eventually lead to homelessness due to inability to keep sustaining work due to uncontrolled seizures. I know this, because my daughter and I were homeless for 2 years as a direct result of uncontrolled seizures. (Another story for another post perhaps.)

And so, there you have it, my NEED for a service dog was clear and undeniable. Treat the “triggers” that cause seizures, stop the seizures.

In this post I want to share the top 3 things I have noticed is a HUGE public misperception about service dogs. It has been frustrating at times to be in public with Pono and be subject to so much ignorance and lack of awareness. I thought it was about time I began to document this entire experience from Pet to Service dog with you!

#1 What Is the True Definition of a Service Animal?


Let’s get the definition of a Service Animal out of the way first:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.” Excerpt from: American’s with Disabilities Act

So by definition YES, Pono is a Service Animal. Period.

I have a TRUE disability which is Epilepsy (Seizures) & PTSD due to a very violent documented physical attack with a criminal trial in process. The two go hand in hand.

He alerts me to seizures up to 6 hours prior to an episode.

He stabilizes me during a seizures and prevents me from wandering or stumbling via his handle & tethered leash.

He lays across my lap or feet during to continue to stabilize me and protect me during.

He pulls me out of seizures more quickly with pawing/licking.

He prevents anxiety and fear caused by being “alone” during a possible future attack or seizure. Therefore prevents seizures.

#2 All Service Animals Must Wear a Vest

No. The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness.

This one misperception I have found to be especially irritating when out with Pono. Prior to having a service animal I too assumed that ALL “legit” service animals were given some kind of “official” vest to wear by a legit organization or something or other.

I remember being nearly shocked when it was explained to me that I can train Pono myself with any chosen service animal trainer of my choice, and that never at any time is he ever legally required to wear a vest defining him as such.

I surprised by the numerous explanations for this! Many I had never stopped to think about but make perfect sense!

  • Vests can be uncomfortable and distract a service animal from their REAL job, paying attention to YOU. All their attention needs to be 100% on YOU at ALL times. Vests can get in the way of this task as some dogs really just DO NOT adjust to the idea of wearing a vest.

  • Vests can cause overheating in some breeds and some handlers have very strong convictions that it is cruel to force an animal to wear one.

  • Vests can cause a person suffering from PTSD due to Combat Service to suffer unnecessary triggers by being forced to constantly see the word “SERVICE” strapped in bold letters across the very animal they depend upon!

    PTSD is very tricky and has been known to be trigged by the most minor of things such as just being a word. So imagine, being a combat veteran? What would come to your mind EVERY… SINGLE… TIME… you saw the word SERVICE. It’s like a big FAT annoying reminder of why you have the animal in the first place. YOUR SERVICE.

  • Vests can trigger conversation that a person suffering a disability doesn’t always want to have everywhere they go, all day long. For example? Why do you have a service dog? You look so normal? … answer, “I’m a domestic abuse survivor suffering with PTSD as a result and Seizures from a TBI.” I mean really? Who wants to talk about the very thing they are trying to forget? Would you?

I have noticed that when Pono is wearing his RED vest and RED leash is has been enough to get the point across without having to actually talk about or reveal things that I don’t want to discuss with total strangers. His BEHAVIOR speaks CLEARLY to all around that his is NOT a pet. He doesn’t interact AT ALL with the public, truly ignoring all sounds, people etc in the room but me. You can spot a service dog in the future JUST BY WATCHING THEM. They behave in ways no pet EVER could. Pono has the ability to tell someone wants to touch him and will move his body away from them and under me to ensure they do not interfere. It’s pretty wild to watch.

Pono also knows directions such as “Left, Right, Forward, Back Up, Focus, Hold,” etc. These are used when walking through tight spaces and high traffic areas or navigating stores. He is able to make a turn WITH me rather than me PULLING him in that direction. I can hold my palm out flat face down and he will immediately lay down belly flat, and chin to ground until I say “release” making things like checking out at a store, browsing a shopping aisle, talking to a sales associate etc. much easier on me. He will NEVER budge, even a little, not due to sound, a kid running by etc. until I SAY “Release.”

He will ALWAYS walk on my RIGHT side. The side I am strongest on, because he can sense my body etc. easier on my right. The right side of my brain stem is also where the seizures are located.

I don’t use a normal leash. It has a strap that clicks around my waist so that I am always hands free with Pono.

Furthermore I am able retain some dignity and not be treated with “sympathy” or like I’m “special.” etc. I am just a normal person, who has an extension with her. Please don’t treat me with pity. I am strong and independent and still here because of those things. THAT is what I want to be seen for, my strength, not my weaknesses ie: seizures ptsd.

#3 Your Service Dog Must Be Registered


Q17. Does the ADA require that service animals be certified as service animals?

A. No.  Covered entities may not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal, as a condition for entry. 

There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.

Anyone who says they have “registered Service Animal” is just flat out lying. There is no such thing as a “government registry” or other such nonsense. You do have to follow your local laws and license your Service Animal if that is a state requirement. But NO, nothing further is needed.

As Pono and I continue our new journey together I will continue to share our experiences with you here.

So far having a service animal has been both a blessing and difficult at the same time. There are certain things I did with my PET Rookie that I can NOT do with Pono, such as allowing the public to talk, touch, or pet him…EVER. Makes me feel bad when a really cute kid asks if they can pet him and I have say “No, He’s working.” They even cry sometimes.

He will NEVER enjoy table scraps like other dogs can, even at home because it will break his strict training for when he companies me in restaurants. He is kept to very minimal visits at the dog park to prevent his being attacked and injured by other dogs. He is a financial investment as well as a TOOL. So to loose hime is a loss much greater now.

He doesn’t get to “hang out and look around or sniff things out of curiosity” when in public with me. His eyes are ALWAYS on ME ONLY. He truly IS working. I feel bad for him because of this sometimes.

He get’s large callouses on his elbows from all the constant lying down he does and I worry more about things like hip displaysia etc. for him due to his inactivity.

He is STILL as a rock when out and about with me on duty during the command “down, or focus” and it’s not good on his joints and legs etc. His diet is FAR more expensive due to things like glucosamine needs etc. and my need to prevent any health issues that could cause me to loose him.

There is so much more I can say but for now here are just a few fun shots of him hard at work with me during our first 3 months together.

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