September 14, 2013 • Posted in blindness, guide dogs, radio, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized, Whitney by

My dog got carded last week. Not at Hackney’s, don’t be silly. Everyone there knows Whitney is 21 (in dog years).


My Seeing Eye dog Whitney was carded last week in the lobby at 30 N. Michigan, a Chicago high-rise where my doctor’s office is. Every human who walks in has to show an i.d. card, but this is the first time they’ve asked for an i.d. to prove that the superbly-trained three-year-old Golden Retriever/Labrador Cross who guides me through a revolving door, into their lobby, around their desk and onto the elevator is legit.

The building’s security guard told me they’d all been told to ask for certification when anyone comes into the building claiming the dog at their side is a service dog. “A lot of them fake it,” the guard said with a shrug. I wasn’t surprised. I’ve written posts here about people I’ve run into who pretend to have a disability in order to bring their dogs everywhere, and my husband Mike has written a post about this, too.

Let’s face it. It’s not hard to tie a vest on a dog, and it’s pretty easy to get fake certification for a dog as well. It’s not easy to live with a significant disability, however, and faking that you have one is an insult to everyone who really needs their dog, and to the airlines, hotels, restaurants and stores who are trying to do what’s right.

Last week National Public Radio (NPR) ran a story called Four-legged Impostors Give Service Dog Owners Pause and interviewed Tim Livingood, a man running one of the many,many businesses you can find on line that sells bogus service dog certificates and vests:

For $65, customers can procure papers, patches and vests to make their dogs look official. They can even buy a prescription letter from a psychiatrist after taking an online quiz. The laws are broad enough to allow that, Livingood says. While his business, the National Service Animal Registry, sounds official, he says government-sanctioned registration agencies do not exist — federal law does not actually require registration or identification patches.

It’s true. There is no national registry of service dogs, and therefore no official i.d. to certify that a dog qualifies. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows employees to ask a person if the dog is a service dog, and if the dog is required because of a disability. Documentation of the person’s disability or the dog’s training can NOT be required for entry into a business, but non-disabled amateurs think letters from bogus psychiatrists and dog vests will help them look legit, so they buy them online.

The Seeing Eye gives graduates an i.d. card for our dogs, and while I do carry Whitney’s i.d. card with me, I’ve never had to use it before last week. It wasn’t much trouble to fetch Whitney’s i.d. out of my wallet, I’m just sorry that fakers have brought us to the point where the managers at the building require security guards to ask for such things.

It is a privilege to go through life without a significant disability, and I wouldn’t wish blindness, or any other disability, on my worst enemy. Hearing stories like these, however, start me thinking we should come up with harsher punishments for people who fake or exaggerate disabilities in order to gain privileges from the government.

Mike On September 15, 2013 at 12:38 am

B, You are being very kind to the folks running 30 N. Michigan. I’m sure the guard meant well, but the management of that building needs to read this post and understand that even though there are people out there faking or exaggerating, that doesn’t mean they should be asking everyone for some kind of ID.

bethfinke On September 16, 2013 at 9:00 am

You know, maybe I’ll email the management company and send them the link — thanks for the idea.

provb3110 On September 15, 2013 at 1:08 am


The service dog organization that I got Tank from offers certification for it’s graduates every year. On Certification Day, weigh our dogs, take a written test, demonstrate 3 tasks our dog performs for us, go to a grocery store (there’s one right behind our facility) to do obedience testing (which allows them to see our public decorum) and make a purchase, and go to a restaurant for dinner (many of us do that as a group in advance. Others go to the deli next door on certification day), and finally we go to our in-house store where a volunteer presents access challenges which we have to show that we can handle the questions and objections of the “owner”. After passing certification, we receice a certification card, similar to the one you have. It expires in a year.

Even though there is no state or national certification, this shows our trainers that we are keeping our dog’s skills up to date. I’ve only used my card once when someone challenged me on access. In your situation, what would have happened if you had owner trained their dog or you went to a school that doesn’t give out cards? Requiring id punishes those people and rewards people who have purchased fake id.

Situations like this make me sometimes think there should be national or state certification. But there are so many problems with starting and maintain something like that, that it’s not likely to happen any time soon. Not to mention what entity would implement and run it?

Thank you for writing about this issue. Hopefully there are people who work in service industries reading your blog so they are educated about what they can and can not ask.

Cara and SD Tank

Sometimes I think there should be national or state certification. But that brings with it problems of its own.

bethfinke On September 16, 2013 at 9:05 am

I appreciate you detailing all you had to do to work successfully with Tank, Cara, and you’re right: figuring out what service dogs are legit can be complicated. In a perfect world, no one would fake or exaggerate a disability to take advantage of this. Maybe telling our stories will shame the fakers into stopping? Sigh. .

Hava On September 15, 2013 at 8:23 am

Absolutely there should be harsher punishments for fakers. Things are getting out hand and those with a legitimate need for service dogs are paying the price. As are business owners who are terrified of scenes fakers make and of lawsuits that they are afraid to ask questions or challenge these people. And so are puppy raisers who face the public’s reaction to having seen the badly-behaved fake service animals. Its getting so that I am seriously considering not raising any more service dog puppies.

bethfinke On September 16, 2013 at 9:06 am

Oh, Hava, please keep raising the puppies. We need dedicated puppy-raisers like you, and if you quit, the fakers win.

Lifeisgolden On September 15, 2013 at 8:47 am

Interestingly, I just spoke to someone at the ADA Info Line yesterday and learned that even requesting id or paperwork is an ADA violation. I specifically asked if it’s a violation or just not required. She said it is a violation.

I have a program dog but some of my service dog friends do not. What type of paperwork are they supposed to show? Ironically, it’s the fakers flashing their internet ID’s who could waltz right in and the legitimate owner trained team that would be harassed and potentially denied access to 30 N. Michigan. Or even you or me if we forget or misplace our IDs on that particular day.

While I understand businesses’ increasing frustration with fakers, I feel that more education is needed on what they can do. As in ask the second question on what tasks or work the dog is trained to perform and request that any uncontrolled service dog be removed.

bethfinke On September 16, 2013 at 9:09 am

In the past I’ve considered offering my services to companies to teach employees and/or management disability law. Maybe now’s the time…?

Lifeisgolden On September 16, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Beth, I think now may be the time as there’s such a great need!

bethfinke On January 22, 2014 at 10:43 am

It’s months after this post was published, but stuck insdie again with yet another frigid snowy day here in Chicago, maybe I’ll finally take the time to do so today –thanks for the comment, Susan.

Eve On September 15, 2013 at 11:23 am

Beth, sorry to hear about this happening locally. And, an incredibly timely post as one of my clients, Canine Companions for Independence, is asking folks to sign on to a letter to the U.S. Justice Dept at demanding an end to the online sale of fraudulent service dog products. Over 13,000 people have signed already – they’d like to collect 20,000 signatures before October. That’s when they are meeting with Justice Dept officials to make the case that the practice needs to stop. I’ll share your post with Canine Companions, too, and keep you in the loop on developments.

bethfinke On September 16, 2013 at 9:11 am

Thanks for this Eve. Glad you included the link — I’ll email you separately about a guest post here about this maybe?

Audrey Mitchell On September 15, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I never heard of anything like that. Good thing you were ready with Whitney’s “I.D.”

bethfinke On September 16, 2013 at 9:15 am

Not surprised you’d never heard of anything like this, Audrey. Who on earth would think that a person would pretend to be disabled, or exaggerate a malady to make it seem worse? I understand people loving their dogs so much they want to take them everywhere, but if that’s the case I suggest they band together and try to get laws changed so that *everyone* can bring dogs to public places, you know, rather than exploit the laws that are there now to help those of us who need our dogs to help perform tasks or help us get where we need/want to go.

Hava On September 16, 2013 at 9:29 am

I have a suggestion for the folks who love dogs so much they want to take them with them wherever they go – apply to raise pups for the various schools that use them. True you must ask permission to bring them into places since the pups are mot fully accredited service dogs, but most places know the value of letting the pups get the experience and do allow them in. The pups will have to be returned to the school eventually, but what a contribution those people will have made.

bethfinke On September 19, 2013 at 6:01 am


Patricia On September 16, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Since you have educated me about the fakers I have been looking at every dog with a vest/patch/etc in a suspect manner. Probably not fair as I am sure many of the dogs are legit. My perception is that I just seem to see so many more animals that have labels of “service dog” prominently on display.

bethfinke On September 19, 2013 at 6:04 am

Makes one wonder. I think it might well be true that more dogs are being trained legitimately to perform a task or do work for a person with a disability, that’s the wording in ADA legislation that qualifies a dog as a legitimate service dog.

bethfinke On January 22, 2014 at 10:41 am

You are more generous of spirit than I am, Patricia. Judging from their behaviour, and especially, from the behavior of their owners, I’m convinced that few of the dogs you see are legit service dogs. Sigh…

Annelore Chapin On September 18, 2013 at 4:58 am

Beth, thanks for this info. We see yet another issue of abuse of an otherwise good system. Never have I thought of fake seing-eye dogs, but there are quite a few people I know who use manufactured handycapt stickers for easy parking. That shouldn’t happen either.

bethfinke On September 19, 2013 at 6:08 am

State of Illinois is taking care of that by requiring all of us with disabilities to re-register for those handicapped placards, they’re coming out with new versions on January 1 that will be more difficult to copy. They’ll also be more difficult to qualify for — from what I understand, if you don’t have a driver’s license, you won’t qualify. For obvious reasons, I don’t own a driver’s license so I think my handicapped parking privileges will be taken away. Just another example of the fakers spoiling things for people who have disabilities.

Janet On September 18, 2013 at 6:49 pm

I definitely think you should have ID for your dog. Your dog is a service (better than those damn pets)
dog, and should have it, just for that fact alone.

provb3110 On September 18, 2013 at 7:33 pm


IDs aren’t required by law. There would have to be something akin to a Motor Vechicle Admin that would test owners and their dogs and possibly require medical documentation. Who would fund something like that.

Also, as someone mentioned, you can not ask for id. The only questions business owners can ask are: Is that a service dog and what does he do for you?

johnandwardogeli On September 18, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Beth, what the medical office security guard is doing is overboard and results from some misinformed management. You can report the incident to Jason M. Johnson who is an Illinois Assistant Attorney General for Disability Rights and his phone is 312 814 6591 and his email is

I am a friend of Ann K and I have met you in the past. I now have my own service dog, a nine pound half Yorkie half Norwitch mix who comes with 60 pounds of attitude. He is for PTSD and will alert on seizures. The dog is fully trained, vested, identified, and wears his school patch, his rank, his Department of Justice info tag, a service dog tag, his photo id, a do not pet tag, a do not seperate handler from dog tag, and we still get stopped in some places. Mr. Johnson is a great resource to get higher management educated, in a hurry. He has been to our school, and has met my dog.

My dog is named Eli, and lots of people know him. I volunteer in a lot of places and he puts smiles on lots of faces. In fact, I now have a new name. When people meet us, they say “Hi Eli”, and then they look at me, concentrate, and say “Hi THERE”.

bethfinke On September 19, 2013 at 6:19 am

Thanks for the info, I’m sure it will come of good use to many of my blog readers. I am conflicted about calling this number to report the management of this building. Truth is, I understand management’s plight and appreciate their attempt to do *something* to stop the fakers.
Maybe someone will come up with an 800 number hotline to call anytime we run across someone bragging about how they’ve beat the system by faking a disability, I’d be more than willling to call that one.

Benita Black On September 19, 2013 at 9:47 am

Beth, my comments are usually bright and breezy, but this is serious and I agree with John. You had the bad luck to meet up with an overzealous hot dog of a security guard at 30 N. Michigan who did not use good judgment in asking for ID. You must report this incident. He’ll probably get a reprimand and deserves one.

Nancy B On September 19, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Beth, I just re-read this and started thinking about health care and educating people. Seems like there is a great need for education about assisting animals of all stripes, especially in health care….I have all these requirements at work to learn about diversity, etc. but no one has ever mentioned this topic.
I have seen people in health care who I know are faking an assistive dog, one even convinced some naive doc to sign something for dog who was clearly a very out of control pet posing as a seizure dog… even said she could drive as long as the dog was with her in the car…..can I just say, duh. Anyway, wonder if there is an opportunity to write an article for a medical journal, hospital management journal or similar.
Always an interesting and infuriating topic.

bethfinke On January 22, 2014 at 10:44 am

Have any suggestions of journals or magazines I might query?

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