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Brian Hergert, a resident of Longmont, Colorado, has been legally blind since birth. But he doesn’t let his sight, or the lack of it, stop him from living life.
“I had Sherman in August 2013 and without him. I even have no idea what my life would be like now, ”Brian said. Sherman is officially from Guide Dogs for the Blind. “So his job is mainly to help me move around and take the place of the cane and avoid obstacles instead of an obstacle finder,” explained Brian.
Before arriving at Brian, Sherman had to earn his job. “For training, they spend about, I think it’s about 12 months with their puppy breeders,” Brian said.
John Baptista Jr. and his wife Susan have been training dogs since birth for almost 20 years. “A lot of people have asked us if we are going to train their children,” laughs Susan.
They say service dogs should be of a certain type, “very gentle, easy going”. And they are taught to be calm in social and busy situations.
John said, “You have the dog for 12, 14 months and then they go back for formal training.”
The four months of formal training with Guide Dogs for the Blind is so strict, John said only 42% make it a working guide like Sherman. It’s a real job with a payment in caresses, entirely earned.
Brian said, “I motioned for Sherman to come forward and cross the street and he stopped and kind of bowed in front of me. Around the time he did this a car flies around the corner and I don’t know how fast they were going but if I had been out I would have been dead.
This is why Brian gets angry when he hears advertisements promoting companies selling vests and certifications to anyone who wants to present their dog as a service dog. “I know, you can go to Amazon and you can buy the same style of harness that we use,” he says.
John said of the vests and the certifications: “To create something like this, that says okay, take your dog anywhere.”
“I think that’s a lie,” said Susan.
And although the state of Colorado passed a law in 2017 that criminalizes people falsely claiming their pets as service animals, they said it continues and is not a harmless crime, especially when untrained animals misbehave in public places.
Susan said, “You know if you really want to do it, you have to have a procedure.”
“Those who have real working animals, service dogs that have been trained by reputable companies, there are no ifs and buts, they are affected,” John said.
“I walked into restaurants and was told I had to leave because he wasn’t a legitimate service dog,” Brian said. “His puppy breeders have done all of this training and the guide dogs have done all of this training and for someone to come and say he’s not legit is kind of like a slap in the face. It’s like waiting, what? Brian wants this problem resolved. “It makes me feel a little insulted,” he says.
Brian said if an untrained fake service animal attacks his guide dog, it could cause his dog to not want to work, which would have a serious impact on his life. He said it could take years to get another guide dog.
It is not illegal for websites to sell vests or certificates for guide dogs. Each of them has disclaimers basically stating that they trust customers to use them legally.