The Salty Dog: A Labor Day Weekend Salute to Service Dogs (by Karma)

I wear this stylish red mesh  vest when my humans take me for a walk. But I am not a service animal.

Screenshot 2016-09-03 11.51.16

But for a mere $69, I could be.


With a charge card and going to the right online site, I could obtain a service dog certificate and an ID. And for another $30, I could replace my ordinary (although fetching) vest with one marked with the designation “Service Dog.”


Some Service Dogs wear these vests, but they don’t have to. And so online sites that push their sale are a bit suspicious. Service Dogs do not have to show anyone documentation. Because of the privacy provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, only two questions can be asked regarding the person and their service dog: Is the animal required because of a disability? What task has the animal been trained to perform related to that disability (e.g., leading a blind person; pulling a wheelchair; alerting about on oncoming seizure.) No certificate or doctor’s letter can be demanded as proof.

A service dog is in fact not a pet but a working partner that is thoroughly trained to provide a service directly related to a person’s disability. Here in Sarasota (and their Palmetto campus), Southeastern Guide Dogs are a great example of an organization that breeds, trains, and matches service dogs to humans with disabilities. It is important work.


But if my humans wanted to scam the system, they easily could. They could buy me a Service Dog vest, and then lie if they are challenged about me. But then they could take me anywhere they wanted and the place would have to admit me.

Think about how damaging this could be to real Service Dogs and their humans. As a fake and untrained Service Dog I would likely misstep and ruin the reputation and the real need for humans who rely on these dogs.

Also for sale is the designation: Emotional Support Animal. This is an untrained animal of almost any species that provides solace to someone with a disability, such as anxiety or depression. To become an ESA, a human needs a letter from a licensed mental health professional that verifies his/her emotional or mental need for the animal. Under The Fair Housing Act and Air Carriers Act, ESAs are allowed to be housed in apartments and hotels where most animals would be denied, and on airlines to fly for free. In this case, proof as in the form of the letter can be required.

Again, the offering of emotional support can be a legitimate need that an animal can meet.

But scammers have figured this one out too. A human can “buy” such a letter at online sites for $140. Along with a credit card number, a human submits an application and then will be interviewed by a Mental Health Professional over the phone. With or without the letter, a certificate is available for $29, and a mesh vest that states “Support Animal” for the pet costs $44.95 (currently on sale for $39).

And the scammers are out there. Just ask anyone in Sarasota who works a front desk at a restaurant, hotel, library, or lobby entrance. Although the ADA currently recognizes only dogs as potential service animals (and some states expand this to include miniature horses, pigs, and capuchin monkeys), humans present all types of animals with certification tags.

A favorite example involved a human entering a library with an alleged service “baby racoon.” This one was almost too easy:  Could a baby animal have had training? An undomesticated animal like a racoon? And exactly what service was being provided while it whipped around like a Tasmanian Devil in its crate?

Others are harder to spot. Can a llama be a comfort animal? An iguana? A deadly viper? Can a tiny terrier be a service animal? It depends…

So, a big Bow Wow shout-out this Labor Day weekend to dogs and other animals who serve.

A big Grrrrrrr to humans who undermine these animals and their owners by cheating the system.

To read more about this issue:

“Pets Allowed: Why are so many animals now in places where they shouldn’t be?” By Patricia Marx; The New Yorker, October 20, 2014.


Salt and Pepper: On Turning 60 (by Sasha)

This week as I celebrate my 60th year, I am more attuned than usual of the dual messages about how to successfully age in Sarasota—a city that given our older demographic honestly strives to be age-friendly (

On the one hand, we are encouraged to “age well” which means to eat well, exercise, keep learning, socialize, find our bliss, and embrace ourselves.

But the even more ubiquitous, and I would argue, powerful message is this: as you age (and ladies, we do mean especially you) please do something about yourself. Fix your:

  • Sagging eyelidsIMG_1949
  • Eye, face, and lip wrinkles
  • Age spots
  • Sagging chin line
  • Thinning hair
  • Less than pearly white teeth
  • Turkey neck
  • Facial hairs
  • Eyes that require readers
  • Extra pounds
  • Loose skin
  • Large pores
  • Love handles
  • Toenail fungus
  • Undefined upper arms
  • Low-hanging breasts
  • Scars
  • Crepey skin
  • Corns and bunions
  • “Barnacles” of aging
  • Varicose veins
  • Grey hairs

The reminders of what is wrong with aging women appear throughout advertisements in all mediums, as well as in fashion magazines, political commentary, mailings, and on storefronts. Some clinics even offer free lunch at an informational session so you can sign up to get an injection, surgery, laser; be tucked, plucked, and have fat sucked; raise this, remove that, tighten and brighten.

Sarasota is a mecca for “having work done” so that a woman can look great “for her age.” And, no doubt, many women here have and do.

Not only does preservation of the younger self feel like a duty, but also a costly privilege since it takes time and money to create and to maintain the illusion of youth. And so, aging now has the double whammy of not only looking old but also looking poor—which are both paths to invisibility and lower status in our culture.

The American celebration of youth is so pervasive that even when we recognize its oppressive nature, it still seems impossible to resist. Yes, we want to look good. So I try very hard neither to judge women who do whatever they do to feel good and look good, nor to reprimand myself for failing to resist this pressure.  Hey, a girl’s got to live, right?

But this fight against aging is depleting, and it makes me sad because it feels like I’m denying a part of myself and a natural part of the cycle of life. We spend the first third of our lives trying to grow up and look older, more mature; the next third we try to maintain ourselves where we were at 30; and the final third we look in the mirror hoping to see signs of what we used to look like. When have we ever been satisfied?

…She’d always thought of herself as pretty and, in a certain light, still was. But sometime in the midst of life she had passed the apex. In the past, when she’d looked at her reflection, she had still seen the little girl she’d once been; the woman in the mirror had still been an extension of her girlhood self. Now it was the future she saw. The wrinkles would deepen; her skin would sag; the lights of her eyes would dim. Her youth was fading, easing into the past. {From The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin, 2016, p. 39}.

When I read this passage from an unlikely source—the final book in a Zombie trilogy—it made me pause and think. I do not want to spend my coming days and years looking into the mirror and feeling sad and wistful for the girl I was. Instead, I want to look into the mirror in anticipation, welcoming the woman I am becoming, embracing my age, accepting myself.




So today, I’m going to look into the mirror at my 60-year-old-self (who foreshadows the 90-year-old who will emerge if I’m very lucky to live that long) and I’m going to do something simple; I’m going to smile at her.

Please share your thoughts…