Service Animal Do’s and Don’ts


Dogs just make life better. They provide unconditional love, and companionship but some dogs do much more for their human.

You’ve seen them, right? In those cute little vests, they’re hard to mistake. Seems like everywhere you go now you see someone with their dog in places where it used to be taboo to take your pet.

  • Restaurants
  • Grocery stores
  • Malls
  • Airplanes

But what exactly is a service animal? The term is often used cavalierly by people to describe their pet when they want to bring it somewhere pets usually aren’t permitted, like in this video.

In case you’re wondering, none of those are service dogs.

The term service animal has a specific legal definition under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This animal must be a dog, that is specially trained to assist a human who has a disability. Examples would be:  guide dogs for the visually impaired, hearing dogs for the deaf, dogs that pull wheelchairs or manipulate objects for their human, like doorknobs, refrigerators, light switches.

This specifically excludes emotional support animals, or therapy dogs. From the ADA’s website:

“Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not considered service animals either. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability. It does not matter if a person has a note from a doctor that states that the person has a disability and needs to have the animal for emotional support. A doctor’s letter does not turn an animal into a service animal.”

This means that if a facility is subject to the laws of the ADA, it must allow the handler/dog team access. They’re not allowed to ask what the person’s disability is, but they can ask two, very specific questions (again, from the ADA site):

1. Is the animal required because of a disability?

2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

Although, if the answers are obvious – visually impaired person, person in a wheelchair – don’t ask.

When I first started training in the early ’90’s, the regulations were more lax. It was an open secret in the dog training/handling/show world. “Get your dog registered as a therapy dog.” They’d whisper, “Then you can take them anywhere.” Finding a hotel that accepted dogs was sometimes challenging on the show circuit. I’m not even going to go into the horror stories I heard about airline shipping back then. So handlers (who were already good at training) ran their dog through a therapy dog certification course, got their vest and certificate and -voila!- instant voucher for their dog to fly in coach with them, go into restaurants, stay in any hotel…

But… just because they had that vest didn’t mean the dog was a stellar example of training and dog manners.

I vividly remember sitting in a session at a pet conference in San Diego back then, and listening to one of the speakers absolutely blister the audience for the deplorable manners of their dogs. “And some of these are service dogs!” She spat into the microphone. Eliminating in the host hotel’s rooms was only one infraction on her very long list.

I know. Ick! Sad but true, not everyone is a responsible dog parent. And just because you put a vest on your furkid, that doesn’t make it a service animal. Sorry, it doesn’t. That makes you one of the people in the video up above. And yes, airlines, hotels, restaurants are covered by the ADA.

So lets cover the definitions. We’ve gone over service animal, but there’s also:

Emotional support animal – provides companionship and helps reduce or eliminate symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, etc. NO special training is required of an ESA. ESA’s live with their handlers.

Therapy animal – provide comfort and emotional support in situations that humans often find stressful – hospitals, long-term care facilities, disaster zones. They are brought to the people needing comfort, then go home with their handler.

Each type of animal provides an important service. I am not dissing emotional support or therapy critters. I’ve seen first-hand the good they do. If you require an ESA, it’s probably a good idea to discuss this with your healthcare provider so they can document your need, and how the animal provides support. Although it does not grant you the access that a service animal gets (sorry, restaurants, movie theaters, etc., don’t have to accommodate) it can open doors when you’re looking for housing.

If your therapy electric eel, in it’s 40-gallon tank, is the only creature that makes you feel warm and fuzzy in an otherwise bleak world, and your physician, therapist or other mental healthcare worker writes a letter detailing how Sparky helps you like no one else can, then finding housing just became a little bit easier. Under the laws of the Fair Housing Act, housing providers must accommodate and adjust their rules for you and Sparky.

Um, don’t laugh. I’ve seen people claim their snake, iguana, or tarantula was their ESA. Whatever floats your boat, I’m certainly not one to judge.

"I have nothing but love to give."
“I have nothing but love to give.”

So what’s the moral of the story here? Don’t be a jerk. Please.

There are plenty of people out there who legitimately need their service or ESA. Every person who buys a vest, or pays a bogus “registry” then drags their poorly-behaved “service dog” around is a nuisance and delegitimizes true service and ESA’s. Don’t be that person.

Because you don’t need to. Dogs are becoming more accepted in society, some restaurants allow dogs on outside patios, major hotel chains now accept pets nationwide.

In my book Dog Care and Training for the GENIUS, I cover aspects of training your dog so you can take your furkid out and about, and give resources to help you find dog-friendly establishments.

Don’t fake it. Be real. Be glad you don’t need a service or ESA, and don’t make it harder for those who do.


Five Alternative Therapies For Your Pet That Give Real Results


You love your lil’ fuzzball. You do everything together, regular vet visits, good nutrition and plenty of exercise are all part of your furkid’s routine. However, even with the very best care, our pets can fall victim to accidents, or illness. This is devastating to go through. Your vet should be the first one you consult and have treat your pet if he starts to act sick or gets hurt. Don’t wait, don’t hesitate – get your pet to the doctor!

But what if there was something more you could do to help your BFF get better? Would you consider it? What if it was considered ‘silly’ or ‘quackery’ by some, but others had experienced genuine, positive results?

Merriam-Webster online defines alternative therapies as:  “any of various systems of healing or treating disease (as homeopathy, chiropractic, naturopathy, Ayurveda, or faithhealing) that are not included in the traditional curricula taught in medical schools of the United States and Britain.”

Alternative therapies are sometimes frowned upon by mainstream medicine – human and animal. I think it’s funny that there are still doctors today who will roll their eyes if they hear the words chiropractor or acupuncture, despite the multitude of studies showing real benefit, and the thousands of patients whose health and quality of life have been dramatically improved by these modalities.

I have worked in hospitals, both human and animal. I can tell you this, absolutely and wholeheartedly – traditional Western medicine is not the only game in town.

It is very, very good, it can save your pet’s life, extend your pet’s life. It may very well be all your pet needs. However, if you are searching for “something more” because traditional veterinary medicine is not giving you complete satisfaction, then maybe it’s time to look at alternative therapies.

Some alternative therapies that are used to help our animal companions include:

  • Acupuncture – placing needles in the skin at defined anatomic points to achieve the desired results.
  • Acupressure – operates on the same principles as acupuncture but without the needles.
  • Herbal and dietary supplementation – using plants and food to treat disease or injury.
  • Massage – the manipulation of the skin and muscles.
  • Chiropractic – the manipulation of the spinal vertebrae to alleviate pressure on spinal and cranial nerves.

Acupuncture/pressure has thousands of years of Chinese medicine standing behind it, validating it’s effectiveness. It is commonly used to treat pain and nausea, but it can also help digestion and gut issues, anxiety (pets can feel anxious!), even diabetes and stroke recovery. But this is only a sampling – a comprehensive list of all the conditions that can be treated is far too long for this post. Acupuncture and acupressure can complement almost any treatment regimen to speed your pet to wellness, but they can also be used solely on their own to achieve the desired result.

Herbal treatments, supplements and specialized diets are likewise large and complex topics, with a multitude of branchings into specialities. It can be as simple as giving your older dog some glucosamine to help ease aching joints to a strict regimen prescribed by a holistic vet to defeat cancer.

Massage feels so good! The therapeutic benefits of massage are undeniable. It improves muscle function, reduces pain, helps with joint stability, aids in rehabilitation from injury…the list goes on and on. Like acupuncture/pressure, massage complements almost any treatment.

Chiropractic adjustments enable the nerves to operate at maximum efficiency by reducing or eliminating pressure put on them by misalignments of the spine. This alone can eliminate pain and increase mobility, but a fully functioning nervous system allows the body to clearly communicate with its various parts. This clear communication facilitates the body’s natural ability to heal itself.

You may find that your vet works in conjunction with alternative therapy practitioners. These practices are becoming more accepted as more people turn to them and discover their benefits. You can even find holistic veterinarians who practice one or more therapies in addition to traditional medicine.

Search for holistic vets through the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. You can refine your search on this site to specific modalities such as acupuncture, herbal, etc.

The National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure and Massage has a member listing of certified practitioners.

Find an animal chiropractor at the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association.

As always, you should do your own research to determine if alternative therapies are right for your pet.

Alternative therapies can help keep your best friend healthy and happy. They are worth investigating to give your pet the best life possible.

All better now! Happy Dog!
All better now! Happy Dog!

National Pet Day!


If you have a pet you know how much joy they bring you. They are there for you on good days and bad days. And no matter how bad your day has been your pet loves you, unconditionally. National Pet Day is all about showing your pet how much you appreciate their companionship. Give them a little extra love and spoiling! That might seem like a no-brainer for a bunch of pet parents.

But what about those people who have no idea what joy pets bring? Show them this!

Pets are good for us. Mentally, physically, emotionally and yes, even spiritually pets teach us to be better people. Don’t believe me?

  • Multiple studies and clinical trials document how pets help lower blood pressure,stress, anxiety, even cholesterol levels.
  • Having a pet instantly reduces feelings of loneliness because another living being is there sharing your life with you. All pets require interaction and bonding, through training, play or just hanging out together.
  • Pets encourage you to be more active. Of course dogs need to be walked but cats need exercise too. Or if you have smaller pets like chickens, rats, rabbits you’ll need to keep their enclosures clean as well as your pet excercised.
  • Pets require love, and they return that love without reservation or hesitation. Practicing love,and opening your heart increases empathy and compassion. We could ALL use more of that!

Having a pet means having a relationship, so you need to be prepared for ups and downs. No relationship is pure bliss from start to finish. Expect that you and your pet will make mistakes. Look at those moments of frustration as lessons in patience and understanding as well as how to keep your cool.

If you’re considering a pet for the first time – Take Your Time! Do not rush into an impulse buy of the first cute baby animal you see. Consider your living situation, your time and availability. Think outside the box! Can’t get a dog or a cat? Small animals like rabbits, ferrets, even rats make wonderful, affectionate companions.  Yes, you can even train them!

And always, if you’re going to bring an animal into your life consider adopting from rescue organizations, humane societies and shelters. There are literally millions of animals of every variety available; your new friend is just waiting to be found!


Dogs and Cats Living Together! Mass Hysteria!

Who said that? Oh, yeah, Bill Murray in this classic scene:

Have you been wanting to get a furry companion to your first fur kid but thought that dogs and cats were mortal enemies? I love Ghostbusters, but I’m happy to say, Peter Venkman is wrong. Cats and dogs live together quite happily and form lasting bonds of friendship.

Meet Sage.

“I do what I want.”

Sage is my patriarch. At 19 years old he really does do whatever he feels like. While the dogs have to display their best manners when we’re eating dinner, Sage just comes right up and inspects the plate. And gets a handout. Don’t judge. He’s 19. When a kitty reaches that age in my house he’s earned extra special treatment. And a taste of chicken. Or bacon. Especially bacon.

Sage is also the unquestioned ruler of the couch, the pillows, the dog beds and even the dogs. It all started, well, 19 years ago. I brought Sage home as tiny kitten and my Belgian sheepdog, Pagan immediately appointed himself Kitten Guard and Personal Groomer. Sage learned from the very beginning that dogs will comfort you, clean you and cuddle you. That’s pretty much been his expectation with every other dog in my house. Of course from Sage’s point of view, they’re his dogs.




Nothing like a warm, soft dog pillow on those frosty winter nights. In Sage’s world, dogs must be cuddled and dogs must be cleaned.

The bonding that can happen between pets is heartwarming and can be incredibly strong. If you’ve been wondering if your fur kid could use a companion, here are some things to consider:

  • Dogs and cats can experience stress, fear and anxiety when they are all alone in our homes. Having another furry friend eliminates this.
  • Bringing in a second pet, while ultimately rewarding for you and your current fur kid, will require some effort on your part to ensure a smooth integration into the family.

Think about how your pet reacts right now to other animals or visitors in your home. If you have a dog, do they enjoy other dogs? How do they react when they see another animal? With excitement? Interest? Or fear? Have you had other animals in your home?

Consider a trial run if your pet has never seen another dog or cat and you’re thinking of expanding your household. Enlist a friend to bring their (well-socialized!) pet over for a visit – for a few hours or even volunteer to pet sit for a day or two to get your fur kid used to the idea of other animals in the house.

As you can see from my household, I have pets in multiples. They keep each other company while my husband and I are at our day jobs. Indeed, most pets will benefit from having a full-time friend. It can help reduce anxiety and loneliness. Of course before you bring in a second (or third!) pet be sure you can devote the time, energy and finances to giving your new fur kid the same love and attention as the first.

Do you have a single fur kid? Have you thought about adding another but weren’t sure it would work? Tell me how your fur kids get along! And take a look at this adorable compilation of dog-cat buddies.