Monday, 10 December 2018
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Service Dog Frauds: Rising Problem Could Jeopardize Safety Of Truly Dependent People

On a recent Hartford-bound flight from Florida, a couple boarded with two vest-clad rare-breed small dogs. As they settled in their seats, they took the dogs’ vests off, unleashed them, and over the duration of the flight, as the human passengers dozed off, the dogs wandered up and down the aisle, even after flight attendants warned the couple to hold on to their pet companions.

It isn’t the first time Eliot D. Russman, a passenger on the flight and head of Bloomfield-based Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, has witnessed a spreading trend: dog owners taking their pets wherever they want, often under the ruse that the canines are emotional support animals, with online-purchased harnesses, vests and identification cards meant to prove it.

“There’s a growing sense of entitlement that people want what they want and they don’t care about anyone else,” says Russman, president and CEO of the nonprofit organization that breeds, trains and raises German Shepherds as guide dogs for the blind across North America. “It’s plain and simple selfishness.”

Service dogs have been assisting their owners for generations, not only guiding the blind, but also retrieving and helping stabilize their owners’ gait.

Another category, therapy dogs, has long been used to calm patients in hospitals and nursing homes and to aid military veterans and civilians suffering from PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. That includes trained dogs going into schools in the aftermath of a growing number of school shootings.

“Dogs have always been incredible for calming people,” says Alice Quinn, a certified dog trainer for more than 30 years. She runs Faithful Friends Service Dog Foundation in Ellington. Her trained therapy dogs were used in Newtown after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, and after an 18-year-old star athlete from Ellington died in an ATV accident four years ago that stunned the close-knit eastern Connecticut community.

Dogs trained to perform specific tasks go through rigorous training. It takes two years before service dogs, like the German Shepherd guide dogs trained by Fidelco at its two centers — one in Bloomfield, the other in Wilton — are placed with clients. That’s 15,000 hours of training, “more instruction than our kids get in kindergarten through college,” says Russman, and $45,000 in direct costs. Therapy dogs such as the ones Quinn trains go through 2,000 hours of task training in addition to obedience training.

One of them is Frankie, a four-year Golden Retriever trained as a diabetic alert dog. He goes everywhere with Lynn Martin, a 53-year-old Ellington woman with Type 1 diabetes.


The Bark Box

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