Service Animals – Who needs them & who are the fakers?

Duke service animal square
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As we travel, many of us have seen people bring pets to hotels, airports, restaurants, etc. And tell the truth, we often look at the people with the dogs and wonder… “Do they REALLY need that dog? Nothing looks wrong with them.” I have been donating time the past few years to raise and train Labrador Retrievers for returned military veterans with PTSD. Let’s take a look at what service animals do, who needs them, and who the lying {censored} are.


Labs For Liberty

The charity I’ve been working with is Labs For Liberty.  Their mission says it all — “Our mission is to acknowledge, honor, and empower members of United States Special Operations Forces by providing service dogs for PTSD and physical needs.”

Service animals - Labs For Liberty banner
Photo courtesy of Labs For Liberty.


Currently, I am raising Duke for a veteran in South Dakota for this great cause. I made brief mention of Duke in my intro post and my review of the Hotel Derek in Houston.

Please click here if you’d like to make a donation to help a vet receive a service dog.

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Duke, the service dog in training!


Please note that not all wounds of war are visible. It is widely quoted that 22 soldiers commit suicide every day. Whether that number is exact or not, even 1 is too many.

As service members have PTSD wounds that cannot be seen, even civilians can be afflicted with emotional wounds that require the assistance of a service animal. You never know what’s going on “behind the curtain”. Do not be too quick to judge when you see someone with a service animal that “looks healthy.”


Service Dogs in the News

Very recently, Mark Halperin complained on Twitter about having to sit next to an emotional support animal with a bow tie on a Delta flight.


While the bow tie may take away from the legitimacy of this job, I’d like to take a moment to clear up myths about service dogs, the laws surrounding them, and traveling with them. To clarify, I am NOT endorsing people ‘abusing’ the system of service dog laws or giving legal advice.

I don’t know Mark Halperin personally, but he is human and may be just as confused as the rest of us.


What is a service animal/emotional support animal?

To see the long description, see this link here.

In short, “A service animal is any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.

Service animals aren’t just limited to dogs and other small animals.  Our friend Angelina recently wrote that therapy support miniature horses at airports is now a thing.


Service animals and your rights

The laws surrounding service animals (dogs, cats, donkeys, ponies, monkeys, etc) are extremely subjective, which works in favor of the owner of the pet. While each individual state has specific ADA laws regarding service animals, these animals are considered protected under the Federal ADA (American Disability Act).

Here are a few myths/truths that many people may not know.


Myths of Service Animals

Myth #1: Service animals are bull$#!+

Although some people may abuse the system, service animals are not bullshit. There have been numerous studies completed proving the effectiveness of these animals to assist with a multitude of conditions.

See this recent study here!


Myth #2: You have to have a doctors note

This one is also false. Anyone is able to have a service animal and legally allowed to access anywhere that serves the public. You do not have to prove the validity of your need to get approved for a service dog.

When bringing service animals into private buildings such as your workplace or rented property, you may need to prove need depending on the situation. Be sure to check your state laws and statues.


Myth #3: You have to have a service “identifier” on the animal

service animalsAgain, false. The subject of service animals can be confusing.

When your service animal is in public you do not need to have a vest or any other visible identifier on the animal.  However, businesses are legally allowed to question whether or not the animal is a service animal.

For example, let’s say I walk into a public restaurant with Duke without his service vest…

They are legally allowed to ask 2 questions:

  1. Is this animal a service animal? (Yes or no)
  2. What is this animal trained to do?

Public establishments are NOT allowed to ask “What’s wrong with you?” or “Why do you need this dog?”.

Even though it is not necessary, I would highly recommend buying a vest to avoid this potentially awkward situation.  The employees may not know what they are and are not allowed to question. Most likely, they will stand their ground and prohibit you from entering or doing business with their company if they cannot visibly confirm that the animal is a service animal.

If you have a service animal but do not have a service animal vest, you can buy them here from Amazon via our referral link.


Myth #4: There is special certifications/licenses to have a service animal

False again, that makes 4 for 4 on the myths that seem that they could be legitimate questions or ideas surrounding service animals.

You can identify your animal as a service animal with no effort. However, if you are in a public place and the animal is being disruptive or destroying property, you can be asked to leave. If you want identify your animal as a service animal, take time to analyze your animal if they are able to handle public access.


How about some truth about Service Animals?

Truth #1: You do not have to pay pet fees

That is correct! If you get just as annoyed with paying fees as I do, having a service animal is one way to avoid this!

Although businesses cannot charge fees just for having the service animal with you, if your pet does destroy any property you are liable for the damages.


Truth #2: People are generally nice about the situation

Absolutely! Service dogs are becoming a hot topic across the country. The companies are afraid of having PR nightmares like Uber is going through. Check out their service dog lawsuit here!


Responsible Travel with Service Animals

If you are going to travel with a service animal, I highly recommend purchasing a service vest for your animal to avoid confrontation on Amazon. But it is NOT necessary by any means.

As with anything travel related, if there are any special circumstances, be sure to let the airline, hotel, etc. know that you will be bringing a service animal with you.

Some airlines or hotels will ask you to bring “documentation” which we now know is completely irrelevant. Rather than arguing how right you are, give yourself (and everyone a break). Bring some sort of documentation print like this to service animal tag from Amazon to appease them.

service animals

If you want to travel with your pet that isn’t a service animal, check out these pet policies for airlines and our friends over at DogTrotting, which is a site dedicated to traveling with dogs.


The realities of service animals

A small percentage of people that do have “service” dogs or “emotional support” dogs while traveling are abusing the system, but who are we to judge?

While training Duke, I have been verbally harassed a few times about me not needing a service dog because I “look” fine. Many people have these animals for psychological/emotions conditions, which are not apparent to the eye. Just because somebody “looks fine”, we do not know what they may or may not be coping with.


The Bald Thoughts

While I cannot provide legal/medical advice, I can absolutely attest to the fact that true service animals change & save lives. Avid travelers like myself love bringing our pets everywhere, but there are stipulations and hoops to jump through.

I’d love to hear your comments/questions/experiences in the comment section below! Do you travel with your pets? Do you have a service dog/emotional support animal that you travel with? Let’s connect!

Duke service animal pinterest


  1. PTSD is not a valid reason to need a emotional support dog. Service dogs are for disabilities, which PTSD is not.

    • Nick, thanks for your comment! I was actually diagnosed with PTSD in 2016, and you are able to collect Social Security Benefits under this diagnosis by a doctor.

      Remember, service dogs are not just for those with physical disabilities. PTSD is not considered an emotional condition.

      • Hi Brett, I appreciate your sacrifice, I have not fought in a war and can only imagine what that must be like. I was perhaps to quick to jump to the conclusion that PTSD does not rise to the level of disability. I will leave that judgement to professionals. I do wish that dogs brought on board would be properly trained. Keep up the blogging.

    • Nick, you need to be educated on what PTSD is. For veterans like me, is something that we struggle with even decades after leaving a combat zone. I pray that you never have to deal with this condition. But then again, you sound like a coward that would not take the time to serve their country…

  2. Hey, thanks for the shout out.
    Why wouldn’t that guy want to sit next to a dog for an entire flight? I’d rather the entire plan be full of dogs. … service or not.
    What dogs do for people is amazing. Even ‘experts’ don’t know a lot about PTSD or the impact on the brain or people. Why would the average person think they have any insight on the issue?
    Is deaf a disability? Bet you can’t ‘see’ it on me.

    • You’re welcome, Sherri. You make a very valid point about a common disability, deafness, that people have no problem understanding, even though you can’t see it. I’m not sure why it is so difficult for other disabilities to receive the same acceptance. Hopefully, over time, they will.

  3. Duke looks like one good friend 🙂 I can totally understand the need for service dogs, sadly I don’t have a dog, but every time I interact with someone’s dog I find myself smiling and just falling in love with the dog’s “smile”. I can see how that can be helpful to someone in need of some emotional or physical support.

  4. There is no doubt that dogs play a very important role in making all our lives so much better. We become better people through interaction with them and they just brighten up your day. This is so much more important and significant for anyone suffering any type of debilitating condition, physical or mental. The positive impact of dogs is just undisputed and I applaud you so much Brett for what you do to assist through your efforts with Duke as well as this type of post.

    • Thanks, Nicole. I was really impressed with Brett when he shared that he trains dogs for this worthy cause. I was even more impressed because it was months after I met him that it even came up in conversation. Some people immediately tell you about all of the good things that they do to help others with a little “humble brag,” but not Brett.

  5. I dont travel with animals but I have seen people travel with them. The red tape they have to go through makes them insane. We all know that PTSD impacts people and they need animals to bring them comfort and support, but I think service animal should be identified, like put on a vest or a chain so people can tell the difference between the pets and the animals for service purpose.

    • I agree that they should wear some sort of designation just so that we can avoid confrontations when people or businesses try to question why someone has a service animal with them. That was part of the reason for this post, to help educate people about the hows and whys of service animals because it is such a new and unknown situation for so many of us.

  6. I cant believe that people harassed you for having a service animal. This is no one’s business and people should respect you and the animal too.

    • Barb, it is unfortunate. My girlfriend and I have been questioned several times and I just try my best to kill them with kindness and turn it into an educational conversation about what I am doing. 99.9% of people are so polite and kind about it, especially being here in Utah. It’s the .1% that ruin it.

      Thanks for reading!

  7. Usually this doesn’t bother us. Abusing or not, why should it be such a big deal? Super interesting thoughts and blog post though. We do not encourage people that abuse the system as well, we find that sad, but in general we wouldn’t look for them if you know what we mean!

    • Absolutely understand where you are coming from. People are going to ‘game’ the system because it is incredibly subjective with no vetting process or government oversight.

      Whether or not a person may be abusing the system is none of our business in the travel industry.

  8. Animal lovers would love this interesting post. Service animals is a new concept for me. Duke looks like a obedient one and you are lucky to have this one.

    • Yukti,

      Thanks for your comment! Duke is such a good dog and is going to a great service dog to a well deserving veteran who served our country.

      Service dogs in the past 5-7 years have really grabbed attention.

  9. A great post on the necessity of service animals. Who are we to judge? As I like to say #dontbeadick and if in doubt ask. Most people I know with service dogs are happy to have a chat about the dog, life and generally are Nice people

  10. Lol as soon as I saw this, I thought of Uber! Thank you for educating people on what service animals are used for. I think a lot of people think they are limited to just people with physical disabilities!

  11. As a pet lover, it amazes me why that person wouldn’t want to sit next to the dog on a flight. That would be the best! Haha, but seriously though I’ve learned about service dogs and it amazes me what these animals can do for humans. It’s good to know that they’re also helping out servicemen with PTSD. That emotional support is so important!

    • I agree. Some people have allergies, and that’s about the only reason I can understand… well, except in Economy where everyone is super smushed already. That could be an issue.

  12. This is an extremely well-written article and also answers/addresses a lot of concerns and questions. I’ve seen plenty of documentaries and videos of service dogs/animals that help people, especially those suffering from PTSD. And what the dogs are able to do after training is simply remarkable and they are true guardians to the owners they help. While Nick is entitled to his opinion, I would also suggest he actually meet someone suffering from PTSD before making such claim. But I hope people are more understanding with service dogs because some of those animals take unwarranted abuse from other people, and for me, it’s devastating to see something like that. Thanks for the post

  13. Working in retail I’ve seen my fair share of people with service animals and abusing the system. In fact, sadly I believe that more people abuse the system than have real service animals.

    My city recently passed a law that makes it a misdemeanor to “impersonate” or lie about a service animal, which I think is a step in the right direction.

    In general, though, we’ve always taken the stance that your animal (service or not) is held to the same standards as a customer. Real service animals have no problem adhering to this standards but pets might. Unruly pets are asked to leave just like unruly customers would be.

    • I agree. There should be more regulation to ensure the people that need service animals are getting them and the fakers cannot, or are at least punished for faking.

      All pets should be held to a reasonable standard. Service animal or not, it’s not fair to a business (especially a small business) if the animal is not behaving and affecting other customers or is damaging the property.


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