At home, three-year-old Kernel looks and acts like your typical lab.

“He’s beautiful,” owner Zac Fox said. “He’s a gorgeous looking dog.”

But with one cue, you can see this K-9 is special.

“If my heart rate goes up or he sees I’m struggling, he’s taught to interrupt certain things. He’s taught to do deep pressure therapy if I’m struggling.”

Specialized training Kernel received during the first two years of his life at the Puppy Jake Foundation prepared him to be placed with Fox as his service dog to help manage the severe anxiety and PTSD the Army veteran couldn’t leave overseas.

“He’s been trained to constantly look at me and look for cues and signals that I may be giving off whether it be verbal or non-verbal,” Fox said.

Kernel pictured next to one of the signs neighbors placed in their yards.

A clearly marked vest helps distinguish his purpose, and under laws protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Kernel can go anywhere Fox goes with his family. But, there’s a big difference between a service dog like Kernel and others who offer emotional support or therapy.

“Therapy dogs are not protected by ADA laws,” Zac’s wife, Lindsay Fox said. “Emotional support animals are not protected by ADA law, so if someone says they have a therapy dog or emotional support animal they are not allowed public access rights.”

That’s where the line in the sand get’s muddy.

“There’s no such thing as a service dog certification,” Lindsay Fox said.

The ADA states owners who claim their dog as a service animal may be asked two questions by someone like a hostess at a restaurant…

1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?

2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform? 

The owner doesn’t have to validate anything further, nor should they. Such a scenario would would be like asking someone to prove they have a disability, which is against the law.

“I’m not sure what the solution there is. I wish there was a way to prevent people from abusing the system. I don’t know what that is,” Lindsay said.

As society becomes more dog friendly, the Fox’s know the misuse and misunderstanding of ADA service dogs will likely increase.

“It is unfortunate there are some out there who misuse this program. The whole idea of being able to bring your dog everywhere I’m sure would be wonderful for you, but they’re not trained in the same manner,” Zac said.

With the honor system in place, the Fox family has few issues going places and if they do, offer education on why Kernel is by Zac’s side.

Regardless of the dog’s title of training background, there’s no excuse for bad behavior.

“The ADA law does outline that if the dog is acting inappropriately, if they’re jumping, if they’re nipping that you can ask them to leave and I want business owners to know that too,” Lindsay added.

So far, Zac said Kernel has managed to stay out of the ‘dog house’ while out in public.