I’ve been writing about Cesar Millan’s recent “Junior gets his Service Dog certification!” post the last few days, including how it was so wrong,  a classic example of misplaced priorities, and didn’t address the law.  The page that started this has been taken down, but there’s a cached version here, and you can also click on the photo for a larger screen capture image of the article.

Next up, service dog registries, but first, here’s a very pertinent late breaking update. Yesterday I found this response from United States Service Dog Registry, whose “documentation package”  is in that picture, to a comment on their Facebook page – pretty obscure place for a pretty significant announcement, honestly (my italics below):

Friends of the United States Service Dog Registry: Hi Emily, thanks for you question. We’ve been in touch with Cesar’s assistant and the writer of this story. The writer of this story is not knowledgeable about Service Dogs and made several errors and omissions in her post. This blog also went live before Cesar could review it. The writer was also reticent to mention Cesar’s disability out of concern for his privacy. She has taken the blog down due to the holiday weekend and until she can meet with Cesar. We will post more information as soon as we have it.”

That’s huge news if Cesar has a disability (and I also have to say it seems USSDR doesn’t share the same concern about Cesar’s privacy if they would post that), since, as I said in my last post, I’ve never seen that mentioned before. No question I’m very much awaiting official clarification, but let’s be very clear – even if that’s accurate, it doesn’t change the fact there are still big problems here, one of which is using a service dog registry.

I’ve been following this subject for several years and have just ducked talking about it here because, frankly, I see so much bad stuff daily where service dogs are concerned I get tired of talking about it all. So I’m very familiar with USSDR, even though I’ve intentionally never mentioned them here.  They are certainly not the worst of the bunch, and if you didn’t know better about the whole registry concept and just went by their posts about service dog access issues everywhere, you’d think they were great.

Here’s what you need to know, and let’s just say this right up front:

Service dog registries’ documentation, IDs, tags, patches, and so on are basically worthless. They have no legal standing and are completely meaningless when it comes to determining if a dog is really a service dog.

Hey, USSDR even tells you that, although not in those words, of course. You can wade through all the legalese on their site (and, trust me, there’s plenty – just click on that Terms and Conditions link), but these two excerpts from their About Us page are what count:

Registrant data is based on assertions by the dog owners. The USSDR can not confirm or certify information provided by the registrants. Service Dog certification is not required by the ADA law. Use of this website, your 10 Digit ID Code, any items from our Archival Documentation Package, cards you make up for yourself are subject to our full Terms and Conditions. Please note that misrepresenting any animal as a Service or Assistance Animal (in any way, either by simply verbally claiming an animal is a service animal, wearing a Service Animal vest or cape, using a special harness, leash, tags or by any other means—including using this Registry) is a crime and may be punishable by law. See our Terms and Conditions for details.

The United States Service Dog Registry is not a certification process and Registrant data is based solely on the assertions of the dog owner. Registrants accept full responsibility for the accuracy of their information, their own conduct and the conduct of their animals. Please read our Terms and Conditions. We provide no benefits or protection for our Registrants, legal or otherwise. Protection and benefits are granted by the ADA and local governments.

See what I mean?

The problem is there’s a fundamental disconnect here. I don’t see how you can say you support the ADA and sell these materials – it’s that simple. You can be well-meaning, cover yourself legally every way from Sunday, dance things around any way you want, but it still comes up the same way.

And the bottom line is still this – if you got fifty bucks and fill out their application, you can have the same stuff you see with Cesar and Junior:

http://www.usservicedogregistry.org/shop.php

Let’s be serious – if  someone who doesn’t know better (which is pretty much everybody) sees a dog with that stuff, do you have any doubt that they think it’s something official that says the dog is a service dog? And they aren’t gonna be looking for all that legalese and disclaimers on a web page – all they know is what they see.

Happens all the time.  I can’t tell you how many news stories or blog posts I see that go something like this: “Even though Lassie had on her vest and service dog ID, she and Billy weren’t allowed in the store.” as if that had any legal standing and then go on to rant about how that’s a violation of the ADA.

This video from last year is a classic example. The veteran in it may very well have a perfectly legitimate beef with the bus line, but, unfortunately, both he and the reporter have shown they aren’t clear on the law when they talk about how the dog “even has identification” and show a closeup of her ID card:

http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/us/2009/10/21/fl.service.dog.trouble.wsvn.html

(Note that particular ID is from registeredservicedogs.com which may have gone out of business since their page comes up as a suspended account, but you can see what it used to look like here.)

That’s the fundamental problem with these registries – they skirt the line and effectively say “We’ll sell you all this great official-looking stuff that allows you to ID your dog as a service dog, but it isn’t official and we take no responsibility if you use it that way.” I guess the concept is you can’t fake something that doesn’t actually exist in the first place, I don’t know.

The larger subject, and one for another time since this is way too long already, is that this is all an outgrowth of the DOJ decision to not only not require any identification for service animals, but not even create one in the first place. One of the end results is that even people with legitimate service dogs buy this stuff because they’re desperate for anything that might keep them from getting hassled.

So what do I wanna see happen and what can we do here?

Well, I’d just as soon see all these registry places go away. I don’t know that it’s appropriate to outlaw them, I’m not a fan of doing business like that, and don’t know that you could, anyway. And even if you did, it would still take time and effort.

But what you CAN do and right now is this: don’t buy anything from these places, don’t promote them, don’t retweet their tweets, don’t share their posted links on Facebook, don’t give their products any recognized status when you see them on a dog – nothing. It’s like so many other things – you might not be able to put an end to them or may not even want to, but you don’t have to support them, either.

Beyond that, I think it’s long past time to resurface the idea of a standardized national ID.

Next: I plan to wait for some kind of official statement from Cesar or his staff before writing any more in this series.