The first “service dog” scam I ever saw was at a Starbucks on Ventura and Coldwater a couple of years ago. A woman in her 50s brought in her fluffy poodle, which wore an orange vest that had the word “Helper” handwritten in unsteady block letters.
“What kind of helper dog is?” I asked.
Normally, a person who owns a service dog, or is training one, loves to talk about it. This woman squinted up her face in displeasure and said “Shush!”
“Excuse me?” I said.
She leaned forward and whispered, “He helps me.”
She looked over her shoulder to see if anyone was following our exchange. “He helps me by keeping me company,” she says. “Now shush!”
And so she has bought an orange vest, printed the word “Helper” on it, and brought the dog into restaurants, shops, and everywhere she went.
A Hair of the Dog For TMJ
Not long after that, newspaper stories started to appear about people trying to bring their pets aboard planes on the pretense they were “service animals.” They claimed this classification to avoid paying a fee for their pets or being forced to put the dog in a carrier case.
“There’s so much fraud out there,” Jeanne Hampl of the Assistance Dog Club told USA Today. “People do it all the time — say it’s a service dog when it’s not
Last year, at the Starbucks on Ventura and Vineyard, not far from Universal Studios, I watched as a man came in and lit up when he saw someone sitting there, who turned out to be his dentist. The man offered his dentist $200 to write a letter that said his German shepherd was a “service dog.” The man mumbled something about grinding his teeth, and how his dog was a critical asset in his dental well-being.
“Are you joking?” the dentist said. “This isn’t April 1st, is it?”
“My dog calms me down,” the man said.
“That prevents TMJ, doesn’t it?” the man said. “You would write me a note that I needed a mouth guard or a yoga class to reduce stress, right? Why not for my dog, which is better than a mouth guard or yoga?”
The dentist looked flummoxed, sighed, and said, “Let me think it over.”
[pullquote]”The man offered his dentist $200 to write a letter that said his pooch was a “service dog” who was needed in the service of his overbite. “My dog calms me down, which prevents TMJ, doesn’t it?” he says “You would write me a note if for yoga, right? Why not for my dog, which is better than yoga?”
Dog Drink Pike World
Today, I am sitting at the Starbucks on Hollywood Boulevard, next to Frederick’s of Hollywood. A sign on the door says “We Welcome Service Animals. … No Pets Please.”
In my first 20 minutes here, four people have walked in dogs. No one makes a pretense they are service animals. No one feels a need to put orange vests on them or rationalize their presence. And this is happening at every Starbucks I go to.
A woman in line green shorts brings in her French bulldog, which lays down in the middle of the aisle, as she waits for her drink. People have to step over dog to get into line.
No one complains. The dog starts lapping at the drink of someone who holds the cup too low. The drink owner, far from minding, simply kneels down to pet the dog, pours some of the drink on her palm, and lets the dog lap it off her.
A barista sees the blockage, and I think she is going to chide the woman and tell her she has to remove the animal. But all the barista says is “Isn’t he cute!” and she steps over it on her way back behind the counter.
Because today, it seems, every dog is a service animal.