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Trainer and owners discuss service dogs and unique protections

What's the difference between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service Animal?
Posted at 10:28 AM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 12:43:40-04

GREAT FALLS — Animals can do amazing things when it comes to the health of humans.

Whether it’s creating companionship, improving overall mental health, or even protecting in times of need.

And for some people, it's often difficult to leave your dog at home when you are going to the grocery store or grabbing a quick bite to eat.

But bringing an untrained dog into a "no pet" facility could be putting someone’s life in danger.

Dee Dee Baker runs the Dog Tag Buddies organization in Billings that matches and trains service animals for veterans suffering with certain types of disabilities: “There are so many untrained dogs being misrepresented, it becomes a huge detriment to our veterans and their dogs.”

And she’s right.

Martina Gunter and John Lynn are U.S. Air Force veterans who have gone through Dee Dee’s program, and have been faced with several instances of an unruly dog attacking their service dog.

“There’s been several occasions with one place in Great Falls that the gatekeepers of the business don’t really question anybody coming through with an animal,” Gunter recalled of an aggressive instance. “The gentleman came in with an animal in a service vest and was at the checkout nearest to the customer service desk. As soon as he saw that there was another dog in the store he immediately pulled on the leash bringing his handler down to the ground and trying to keep the dogs from coming over to Willie and I.”

Martina Gunter
Martina Gunter

Luckily for the two, employees stepped in between them, preventing any further immediate damage, but the stress stayed with Willie long after the other dog was removed.

John Lynn had his own run in with an untrained dog at a supermarket. He explained, “I live by the grocery store and they go in there all the time. The people know me, the management knows me, they love my dog, but one day I went in there and this dog immediately started pulling and barking at my dog. I then took my dog into the other aisle to get away from the situation but my anxiety went up, my dog's anxiety went up and we had to leave the store.”

John Lynn
John Lynn

Both situations could have been avoided. Gunter and Lynn are very adamant about businesses knowing their rights when it comes to animals in their store.

“Obviously it starts at the top and I believe that businesses or local business managers should be educating their staff on how to evaluate service animals properly,” said Gunter. “ I would love if every store I walked into with my dog if an employee stopped me and asked me the ADA questions.”

Those two questions are:

  • Is this a service dog?
  • What work or tasks has the dog been trained to perform?

“If you are a trained service team you should have no problem answering these questions,“ said Gunter.

And at this point not only is posing as a fake service animal a bad judgment call but also it’s illegal.

In 2019 Montana signed a bill then amended the service animal laws to better align with the ADA service animal laws. The bill created a misdemeanor charge for anyone caught falsifying a service animal.

For many of us our animals are part of the family but leaving them at home might just say someone else’s life.