Today’s Service Dogs: Abuse Of The System Is On The Rise

Our canine companions have a rich history, especially as service dogs, dating back to before the beginning history itself.


Our canine companions have a rich history, especially as service dogs, dating back to before the beginning history itself. In one recorded case, back in 300 BC, the Greek King of Epirus, Pyrrhus used dogs to determine the killer of its master. In the 14th century, King Louis XI was said to be the first person who used them as guard dogs and warn his majesty of “stranger danger.”

While today we may envision a service dog in the form of a stereotypical German Shepherd being used primarily by the police or military, but there’s a growing number of them assisting the disabled. In either event, they’ve still come a long way from being guardians during the middle ages. Today’s service dog can be found performing a multitude of tasks all around the world, but abuse of this system is on the rise.


There’s More Than Fido Flying

There’s a growing problem with this important part of the working animal population, people passing off pets as service animals, and some pretty unusual ones at that. In a recent article featured on Today, former flight attendant Hollis Gillespie laments, “You get on an aircraft and the cabin looks like a barnyard.”

Gillespie also stated she’s seen snakes, birds and pigs all flying aboard jumbo jets at no charge. She continues to offer, “Often it’s about the money, because one way travel with a pet on some airlines can be up to $600, depending on the size of the animal.”

Fraudulent Flyers

Apparently, all you need for an animal to fly for free is an official looking service vest for your critter and a letter from a qualified, mental health professional. But there’s plenty of online venues where you can obtain both of these by simply filling out a questionnaire and paying a fee.

Today’s investigative correspondent, Jeff Rossen, did just that and was emailed an official looking document from a real, existing mental health professional without even meeting with him. Armed with his letter, Rossen took two flights with his dog Rory, who sat in his lap the entire time, no crate required. What’s even worse, no one bothered or offered to check his paperwork or questioned the dog’s authenticity as an official service animal.

No Harm, No Fowl

Many people might be thinking, so what’s the big deal, no one’s really getting hurt and people have just found a creative way of beating the system and saving a buck. But according to Laurel Van Horn, a disability expert from The Open Doors Organization, it’s a huge concern.

“When you try to pass off your animal as a service animal or an emotional support animal and it’s not, what you’re really doing is you’re passing yourself off as a person with a disability, and it can have real consequences for those who actually need these animals”, stated Van Horn.


According to statistics from the University of Arizona, only 0.9% of truly disabled people are paired with a service animal, which totals around 387,000 of these animals in the US. Compare that to over 43 million disabled Americans and then it becomes extremely unfair when you consider the “snakes on a plane” concept.

Shopping With Schnauzers

Increasingly more and more shoppers are bringing their small dogs into grocery stores and other retail outlets and no one seems to care. For example, while this topic was on my mind, just the other day I was getting in line at a home improvement store, when a dog on a leash passed in front of my cart.

The clerk snapped at me and told me to be mindful of the dog so that I wouldn’t strike it with my cart. I assumed from her remark that animals were allowed in the store since it wasn’t wearing a service vest. Upon exiting the building, I saw a clearly marked sign at the entrance that stated “No Dogs Allowed,” followed by the typical verbiage about service dogs being exempt from this rule.

Canines In Carts

The next day, I decided to do some investigative work of my own and went to a large, nation-wide retail grocery store and questioned one of the head clerks about non-credentialed dogs entering the store. “Judy” (who wished to remain anonymous) told me that customers bring their pets into the store “all the time” and that it’s a “daily occurrence,” especially smaller dogs they put into the grocery cart where children are often seated.

I asked if she ever requested a customer leave the store with their undocumented, unvested pet since animals aren’t allowed inside and she replied, “Corporate doesn’t want us to alienate the customers over this violation,” even though she completely disagrees with their ruling.


A Clear Health Code Violation

Judy went on to complain, “Imagine putting your groceries or even your kid onto a surface that could be contaminated with a dog’s saliva, hair, dander, urine or fecal matter through casual contact, it’s disgusting how many potential diseases they could be spreading.”

Judy continued, “Although service animals are welcome in the store, at least they’re confined on a leash and are walking on concrete floors, which are swept and mopped regularly, unlike the shopping carts, which are only cleaned monthly.”

These are just two of the many ways humans are abusing the service animal system and it’s becoming more problematic. Whether it’s frequent flyers trying to save a buck or pampered pooches in our retail outlets, it’s still an abuse of what service animals are supposed to represent and belittles the practice altogether.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Is this really no big deal or a growing problem?


Written by Amber Kingsley


Do you want to SPARK a better understanding of autism?

Together, we can help spark a better future for all individuals and families affected by autism.

If you or your child has a professional diagnosis of autism, UC San Diego Autism Center of Excellence invites you to learn more about SPARK, a new online research study sponsored by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. The mission of SPARK is clear: speed up research and advance understanding of autism by creating the nation’s largest autism study. Joining SPARK is simple – register online and provide a DNA sample via a saliva collection kit in the comfort of your own home.

Register by contacting us at 858-534-6906, or visit

Together, we can help spark a better future for all individuals
and families affected by autism.SPARK -UCSD - Facebook Image 1 (1)

About SPARK:

  • SPARK is a landmark national autism research study designed to speed up research and advance our understanding of autism to help improve
  • Autism is known to have a strong genetic While we know that genetic factors contribute to autism, there is still so much we don’t know.
  • SPARK will collect unique information from thousands of individuals affected by autism to give researchers the information they need to improve treatment and achieve scientific advances as rapidly as More participants in SPARK means more good data for researchers.
  • SPARK aims to recruit 50,000 individuals with autism and, when possible, their biological Participants will provide basic medical information about themselves and a DNA sample and will agree to be contacted for additional research studies.
  • Participation in SPARK can be done entirely at home—registration can be completed online and the DNA sample can be provided using a saliva collection kit mailed to the There is no cost to participate, and upon completion of the registration process, the individual with autism will receive a $50 gift card.
  • Individuals of all ages with a professional diagnosis of autism, together with their family members, can participate if they live in the United States and can read and understand English in order to complete consent forms and online questionnaires.
  • Participants will agree to be recontacted about taking part in other research projects but are not required to join additional
  • Privacy is a top Information submitted as part of SPARK will be immediately scrubbed of the person’s identity, which will be replaced with a code, to provide the most security possible.

SPARK is sponsored by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative.
SPARK: Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge

For more information or to join, visit or contact

TLCAD Teams up with Adler University for PTSD/Service Dog Research Study

Effectiveness of service dogs on the quality of life of veterans with PTSD.

TLCAD’s collaboration with Adler University, in their research to determine the effectiveness of service dogs on the quality of life of veterans with PTSD, has yielded promising preliminary results. The study has found that veterans with PTSD paired with service dogs have less severe PTSD related hyperarousal symptoms compared to veterans seeking but not yet paired with a service dog. Research will continue to better determine the effects of service dogs on veterans with PTSD. Please note that the results are preliminary, data collection is still ongoing, and the results have not yet been reviewed by a peer-reviewed journal.
Little scientific evidence-based research exists in the field of service dogs. To help further the efficacy of the use of service dogs, TLCAD has collaborated with Adler University, in their research to determine the effectiveness of service dogs on the quality of life of veterans with PTSD. The study has found that veterans with PTSD paired with service dogs have less severe PTSD related hyperarousal symptoms compared to veterans seeking but not yet paired with a service dog. Please note that the results are preliminary, data collection is still ongoing, and the results have not yet been reviewed by a peer-reviewed journal.

Thank You Las Patronas!

This year TLCAD is a gracious beneficiary of a Las Patronas grant

This year TLCAD is a gracious beneficiary of a Las Patronas grant to support our Prisoners Overcoming Obstacles & Creating Hope (POOCH) program. Thanks to Las Patronas, TLCAD will obtain materials needed to train service dogs, helping to make the program a success!


“The POOCH Service Dog Program is the perfect nexus of benefiting the local San Diego community by providing service dogs for wounded warriors and children with autism, saving dogs from euthanasia, giving our staff the opportunity to become a volunteer for the program and providing incentives and rehabilitation opportunities for our inmate population.” – Warden Daniel Paramo

Learn more about our POOCH program

How an Autism Service Dog Unites the Whole Family Unit

Bringing families together and reconnecting them with the community.

1915661_10205869140716289_9154806450189513766_n.jpgPart of the amazing work TLCAD does is bringing  families together and reconnecting them with the community. About two years ago, TLCAD placed Solar an autism service dog with Sadie who has a mitochondrial disorder and autism. Solar has enabled Sadie the independence her mother had always hoped for. Most recently as a family the Smith’s went to the San Diego Museum of Art, where they were able to enjoy the entire day without any meltdowns or anxiety.

“The kids, and I had such a great time yesterday at the art museum‬. While Bro needed me to do the math on how old exactly every single piece of art was, Solar would just sit next to Sadie while she concentrated on on the pieces she was into. She would dig her hands into his fluffy fur and hug him when the echoey rooms got a little loud. She must have dropped her map or drawings like 20 times and he would just pick them up for her. She giggled when her items were returned slightly slobbered. Zero meltdowns. It was the most chill outing we’ve had in a long time.”

– Nicki Smith mother of Leash-On-Life recipient Sadie Smith and her autism service dog‬ Solar


Petco Foundation Invests in TLCAD’s Service Animals

Petco Foundation Invests in Tender Loving Canine Assistance Dog’s Service Animals
Grant of $10,000 will extend efforts to help pets and people in San Diego, California live their best lives

Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs of San Diego, California, today announced it has been awarded a $10,000 grant from the Petco Foundation to support its ability to have more shelter dogs in their programs.

Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs is a nonprofit organization that provides the gift of independence to wounded warriors and individuals with autism by building a dedicated community of service dog trainers and volunteers. Since 1998, Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs has worked to satisfy an unfulfilled need for Assistance Dogs in San Diego County, California. Today, the two main areas of focus are the Leash‐On‐Life Program that was developed to assist children and families who have been impacted by autism and the At Ease Program that was created to serve the needs of our country’s Wounded Warriors.

The grant was made possible through the Petco Foundation’s annual Helping Heroes fundraising campaign, in partnership with Natural Balance Pet Foods. During the campaign each October, customers are invited to donate in Petco stores across the country to support service and therapy animals and organizations.

The Petco Foundation investment will help Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs to assess and train more shelter dogs to become service dogs to help wounded warriors or children with autism.

“We are so grateful for this recognition of our programs and for these funds that will help us to increase the number of shelter dogs we are able to train as service dogs to serve the members of our community,”

said Karen Shulz, president, executive director and trainer at Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs.

The Petco Foundation has served as a voice for companion animals across the country since 1999. Today, with more than 8,000 local animal welfare partners across the country, the Petco Foundation donates approximately $15 million a year to make a difference in the lives of millions of animals. The organization is funded through donations raised during fundraisers conducted in Petco’s more than 1,300 stores across the country, as well as from Petco associates, vendors and corporate contributions. Money raised helps fund animal welfare organizations, spay and neuter efforts, animal‐assisted therapy programs and humane education. The majority of the funds raised remain in the communities where they were raised, as well as animal welfare efforts nationwide.

For more information about Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs or the Petco Foundation, visit or  Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or by using the hashtag #PetcoFoundation.

About Petco & the Petco Foundation

logo_foundation_1155x354.jpgPetco is a leading pet specialty retailer that focuses on nurturing the powerful relationship between people and pets. We do this by providing the products, services, advice and experiences that keep pets physically fit, mentally alert, socially engaged and emotionally happy. Everything we do is guided by our vision for Healthier Pets. Happier People. Better World. We operate more than 1,300 Petco locations across the U.S., Mexico and Puerto Rico, including more than 100 Unleashed by Petco locations, a smaller format neighborhood shop; nine Pooch Hoteldestinations for pet daycare, boarding and spa services; and Petco Foundation,an independent nonprofit organization, has raised more than $125 million since it was created in 1999 to help promote and improve the welfare of companion animals. In conjunction with the Foundation, we work with and support thousands of local animal welfare groups across the country and, through in‐store adoption events, help find homes for more than 350,000 animals every year.

2nd Annual College Basketball Tip-Off Luncheon

A trip down memory lane on Coach Olson’s 50 years of coaching college basketball.

MCAS Miramar OfficersClub Luncheon.jpgTender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs, Inc. (TLCAD) held its second annual College Basketball Tip-Off Luncheon in honor of University of Arizona Hall-of-Fame Coach Lute Olson at the Officers’ Club at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar on November 3rd. Basketball fans and military supporters came together to attend this exciting event. Other special guests in attendance were University of San Diego Coach Lamont Smith, who gave a warm welcome to Coach Olson. Coach Smith spoke of his upcoming basketball season. The Master of Ceremonies was former University of Arizona Wildcat player Harvey Mason, who helped keep not only the crowd but “Lute” in line.

CoachLuteOlson_HarveyMasonJr.jpgThe luncheon was a trip down memory lane on Coach Olson’s 50 years of coaching college basketball. Long time friends, John Kasser & Dr. Cedric Dempsey, shared their favorite memories of working with Lute. Next, Harvey Mason led a Q & A with Coach Olson on his most memorable moments in coaching the Wildcats. Retired Navy Captain, Charles Schroeder presented Coach Olson with a personalized Marine Corps flight jacket as a gift from the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs in appreciation for Coach Olson’s support of TLCAD’s programs. He was also presented with a proclamation that was presented by a representative of Mark Kersey, who is Councilman of the Fifth District in San Diego. The proclamation praised Coach Lute Olson for his many years as a college basketball coach, his contributions to the game and named November 3, 2015 as Lute Olson Day in San Diego.Nickie&SadieSmith&Solar.jpg

Then the President of TLCAD, Karen Shultz presented TLCAD’s At-Ease program for Wounded Warriors and Leash-On-Life program for individuals with autism. Luncheon guests were captivated by a heart felt story from Nicki Smith, the mother of Sadie a Leash-On-Life recipient. She spoke of Sadie, and her journey toward greater independence. Sadie, diagnosed with autism and mitochondrial disorder, has progressed from being wheelchair bound to walking independently, all thanks to her Service Dog Solar who is always at her side.

The event was a tremendous success and brought in over $35,000 for TLCAD’s programs. The monies raised will help produce more custom trained service dogs, who will forever transform the lives of our veterans and those affected by autism in San Diego County.


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Ernie McCray – University of Arizona Alumni wrote a piece on TLCAD and our event in the San Diego Free Press.