[nagdu] Some pet owners try to skirt rules with fake service dogs

Lyn Gwizdak linda.gwizdak at cox.net
Fri Apr 8 17:19:17 UTC 2011

Great article!
I see these dogs around all the time!  At a local Farmers Market, there are 
these HUGE signs - yeah, I can even read them - that state, "NO LIVE ANIMALS 
ALLOWED Except for Guide and Service Dogs".  These signs are large 
sandwich-board style signs posted all over the Market area. The all caps are 
in a huge font on the signs. Still, I come across TONS of these little dogs 
there.  Some of them carry on when they see Landon.  Nobody questions these 
dogs' owners.

Another popular place I see these dogs is on the bus.  Many times people 
bring the dogs on and the driver says nothing.  Sometimes the driver will 
ask if it is a service dog and the person says it is. Most of the time these 
dogs behave pretty well but some have tried to attack our guide dogs or act 
aggressive when they see my dog or another person's guide dog.

It seems that all people hear is "Service Dog" and they automaticly assume 
it is legitimate and never question the people with these dogs.  I think 
some of these people are fake and are pawning off their pets as service 
dogs.  I think the majority really do have mental health issues and the dogs 
keep them calm - comfort dog which isn't covered under ADA.

The public has grown used to seeing dogs for the disabled and say nothing. 
They tend to be afraid to question people because they are afraid of 
offending a person or they think the ADA says they have to admit the dog 
just because someone says it is a service dog.  Then you still see the folks 
who say "No dog in here" when I walk in with my clean, well behaved guide 
dog.  Go figure!

Lyn and Landon
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Ginger Kutsch" <gingerKutsch at yahoo.com>
To: "NAGDU Mailing List,the National Association of Guide Dog Users" 
<nagdu at nfbnet.org>
Sent: Friday, April 08, 2011 5:18 AM
Subject: [nagdu] Some pet owners try to skirt rules with fake service dogs

> Some pet owners try to skirt rules with fake service dogs
> They get look-alike certifications and vests off the Internet
> By Wayne K. Roustan, Sun Sentinel
> April 7, 2011
> http://www.sun-sentinel.com/fl-hk-fake-service-dogs-20110405,0,70
> 59372.story?page=2
> Legitimate service dog owners and trainers in South Florida say
> they are increasingly frustrated by loopholes and gray areas in
> state and federal law that allow some pet owners to pass off
> their pooches as certified service dogs.
> The deception allows their pets to live in restricted housing,
> accompany them inside restaurants and hotels or fly for free in
> airplane cabins rather than in cargo holds.
> "I don't want to say it's a scam, but it is a scam," according to
> Nick Kutsukos, 72, who runs the Elite K9 Academy in Jupiter and
> has trained service dogs for 40 years.
> All a person has to do is log onto one of many service dog
> certification websites, fill out the form online and send a
> check, money order, or credit card number and perhaps a
> photograph of their dog.
> For between $20 and $300, the pet owner will get a specially
> marked vest or collar for their pet to wear, special
> identification tags or ID cards, a certificate suitable for
> framing, training DVDs, information CDs and other official
> looking items not required by law.
> One website recommends annual certification, while another offers
> increasingly expensive bronze, silver, gold, and platinum
> packages. Still another site features misspelled words and poor
> grammar.
> "There is no certification required, so there's no such thing as
> a legitimate [document]," said Toni Eames, president of the
> Michigan-based International Association of Assistance Dog
> Partners.
> "Anyone who sells you a certification is a scammer," said Eames,
> who also is blind and has her own guide dog.
> Kutsukos, who has a service dog to help with his seizures, said
> the fake certifications "make it it difficult for people with
> legitimate service dogs to do things."
> The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 to protect
> the rights of the disabled, including their use of service
> animals. But confusion ensued when monkeys, cats, ferrets and
> other critters were utilized to help people with special needs
> function in public places, such as restaurants and hotels.
> The U.S. Department of Justice amended guidelines on March 15 to
> narrow the definition of service animals to dogs that are trained
> to perform specific tasks related to the owner's proven
> disability.
> Guide dogs are the most recognizable, having assisted the blind
> or visually impaired for more than 50 years, according to Jose
> Lopez with the Lighthouse of Broward, which serves the sight
> impaired. He has had a guide dog for five years and is a
> consultant for guide dog training schools.
> "It's a heavy gray area," Lopez said. "Basically everybody can
> print [certifications] from the Internet and say 'that's my
> assisting dog.'"
> Legitimate service dogs of almost any size or breed can be taught
> a variety of tasks that include alerting a deaf person to sirens
> or alarms, retrieving medication, warning of impending seizures,
> or stopping autistic children from wandering off.
> The dogs are also trained to wake up a veteran with Post
> Traumatic Stress Disorder who's having a nightmare, and help to
> prevent or interrupt destructive or impulsive behavior by people
> with a neurological or psychiatric disability, Kutsukos said.
> Dogs that provide emotional comfort are not considered service
> animals under the new ADA rules, but dogs, monkeys, ferrets and
> other support animals still are allowed in airplane cabins under
> the Air Carrier Access Act and in homes under the Fair Housing
> Act with appropriate proof from the owner's doctor, according to
> Eames.
> Still, not everyone bothers.
> "People come up to me all the time and ask 'Where do I get one of
> those harnesses to take my dog with me?'" Eames said. "They don't
> have any clue [my dog] had two years of training before I was
> able to take her on a plane with me."
> There are about 20,000 legitimate service dogs across the country
> and between 600 and 2,000 in Florida, according to Ken Lyons,
> director of Orlando-based Service Dogs of Florida.
> It takes up to two years of training with a three-year waiting
> list at most training schools and only 2,500 dogs graduate each
> year. Training guide dogs for the blind can cost up to $40,000,
> Lyons said.
> "If you are truly disabled, then it's worth the money," Kutsukos
> said.
> However, given the time and money invested in training service
> dogs, disabled users and trainers are angered by those who buy or
> sell worthless service dog items online for imposter pets.
> "I'm condemning the people who are irresponsible and force people
> into cheating," Eames said.
> Any certification, ID card, vest, tag and harness should include
> contact information for the service dog's school and trainer but
> it's not mandatory, Lopez said.
> By law there are only two questions that can be asked of a
> disabled person with a service dog:
> Is this a service dog for disabilities?
> What tasks or assistance does the dog provide you with?
> Barring a disabled person and their service dog from a
> restaurant, hotel, airplane or other public place is a
> second-degree misdemeanor in Florida, punishable by up to 60 days
> in jail and a $500 fine.
> Or a federal judge can order a change in business policies to
> allow access by disabled customers and their service dogs.
> Monetary penalties are rare.
> If a person tries to fake a disability and pretend their pet is a
> service animal, they risk a fine at the very least or federal
> fraud charges in extreme cases, Lyons said.
> "If you portray yourself as disabled, or your pet as a service
> animal, the minute you go out in public you're committing a
> crime," he said. "It's felony fraud."
> wkroustan at tribune.com or 561-243-6623
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