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Watching a dog give birth to her puppies at the airport was supposed to be a feel-good story that made headlines locally and nationally. But, in truth, it was a sad story because the dog who gave birth and the father of the puppies, another golden retriever, were described as “service dogs.”

The two-year-old golden retriever went into labor shortly before she and her owners boarded a flight from Tampa International Airport to Philadelphia. They apparently were returning home from a visit to Florida.

Let’s be clear, the dog who gave birth at the airport was not a service dog. If it was a service dog, it shouldn’t have been “working” while it was pregnant. The owner of the dog apparently said she had “mobility issues” and that’s why she needed the dog. Who depends on a pregnant dog for mobility? That’s cruel and abusive. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs have public access if they are trained for a specific purpose for a specific individual. The problem is complicated with airlines. They do not have to comply with the ADA laws and can allow any dog or other “service” animal to fly on any plane. That’s one of the reasons the airlines are having so many problems with fake dogs harming other passengers.

Anyone can buy a “Service Dog” vest online. Under ADA law, a business can only ask two questions of a service dog handler:  “Is that a service animal? And, “What service is it trained to provide.” Emotional Support Animals DO NOT have public access rights. They are not trained and are not “service” animals.

As a longtime puppy raiser for Southeastern Guide Dogs, we are familiar with the dangers of these fake dogs. If a blind handler is walking through an airport, for example, and a fake service dog leaps toward her, it can be very dangerous for her and her guide dog. While the puppy we raised is trained to avoid distractions by other animals, if she is attacked, she and her handler cannot defend themselves. The handler is completely blind and the guide dog is restrained in a harness. At Southeastern we have lost working dogs who have been attacked by dogs who had no business being in public places.

Even if a dog is a trained service dog, if it doesn’t behave properly in public, a business owner can ask the handler to remove the dog.

After calling the paramedics to help with the delivery, airport personnel should have called the police. It is illegal in Florida to knowingly misrepresent a pet as a service animal. At Southeastern, and every reputable service organization, working dogs are spayed or neutered.

Even under the less-restrictive Air Carriers Access Act for the airlines, breeder dogs are not permitted to travel.

After the incident, Southeastern Guide Dogs released the following statement:

“This weekend, a lot of attention was given to some puppies being born to alleged service dogs at the Tampa Airport. As a result, Southeastern Guide Dogs has been contacted repeatedly asking about “our” service dogs, and in fact, one media outlet (out of our area) posted the airport puppy story along with a video of our own Puppy Academy. We’d like our community to know that 1.) Our service dogs are all neutered or spayed; 2.) Our breeders are local and only give birth in our own Whelping & Neonatal Care Center in our Puppy Academy under the supervision of a team of veterinarians; 3.) Breeder dogs have no public access rights and are not permitted to travel with their handler under the ACAA (Air Carriers Access Act).

By trying to pass off their dogs as service animals, the owners put their dogs in danger, the puppies in danger and legitimate service animals who could have been traveling legally that day. Passengers could also be in danger when untrained dogs are permitted to fly in airplane cabins.

It’s important to know that while we all love our dogs, some individuals NEED their dogs. Florida law and the airline carrier regulations were designed to protect those individuals and we all need to respect that – even when the lawbreakers are nice people with cute puppies.

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