They're not just German shepherds; local woman uses pug as service dog

When you hear the words "service dog", what may come to mind is a German shepherd teamed up with someone who's visually impaired, but today, there are many types of people who need service dogs and many different dog breeds that are trained for it.

Trudy Elliott of Garden City Beach doesn't go anywhere without her 7-year-old registered pug, Remi. And there's a good reason.

Elliott has had two heart attacks and a couple of strokes. She's also diabetic and has high blood pressure.

"He can sense when something is going on with me and he will start barking, barking like crazy," she says of Remi, who's been trained to be her service dog for about 3 years.

Elliott said Remi seldom barks unless he senses she's having trouble breathing or has some other health problem.

She always keeps Remi on a leash and has him clearly marked with a service dog jacket and license tag. Still, when she goes to a new store or restaurant, she said she often gets resistance from managers who aren't used to seeing a service dog that looks like Remi.

"Everybody always expects to see like a big Lab or German shepherd. That's not true anymore, because people are training smaller dogs for a lot of reasons," Elliott said.

"It can be a Chihuahau, it can be a Lhasa Apso, it can be a pug, it can be a mixed breed of any kind," said service dog trainer Rick Kaplan, of Canine Angels, Inc. of North Myrtle Beach. Canine Angels provides free service dogs to disabled veterans.

Kaplan said Elliott is doing it right by clearly marking her dog, but some people don't and that can lead to problems. "I personally can understand a business person not accepting a dog that has no markings or identification just because somebody says so," Kaplan said.

He said the Americans with Disabilities Act is weighted heavily in favor of the service dog owner and that can lead some people to try to bend the rules, which doesn't help anybody.

"What you're really doing is damaging the real people with the real disability, with the real service dog."

Though the ADA law has been updated since it passed in 1994, Kaplan said it may be time to make some changes again. "There should be some additional tweaking that requires an individual to make sure the dog is certified, licensed and is marked so," he said.

Elliott said people had better get used to seeing smaller dogs being used in service canine capacity, because those breeds are getting more common. "They're easier to manage, they're easier to pick up," she said.