[NFBOH-Cleveland] New Laws for Fake Dogs
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Tue May 15 19:12:13 UTC 2018
Collared: New laws crack down on fake service dogs
Nearly two dozen states have tightened the leash recently on
pet-owners illegitimately passing off Fido as a service animal.
by Adam Edelman / May.05.2018 / 8:01 AM ET / Updated May.05.2018 / 11:00 PM ET
Move over, Rover. Your time in the grocery store, the movie theater
and pizza parlor is running out.
Twenty-one states have in recent months mounted a major crackdown down
on people who falsely claim their pets as service and support animals
so they can bring them into restaurants, theaters and other public
places where Fido and Fluffy aren't typically allowed — and the
movement has picked up speed in the last few weeks.
Last month, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, signed into law a
bill making it illegal for people to misrepresent their pets as
service animals, under which pet-loving perps are subject to a $100
fine and a misdemeanor charge. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican,
signed a nearly identical bill, under which those who "fraudulently
misrepresent" service animals can be fined $250.
"I couldn't go into a store or an airport or even an office without
seeing some disorderly four-legged creature dragging its owner around,
wearing a vest that said 'service animal,'" Republican Arizona state
Sen. John Kavanagh, who sponsored the Arizona bill, told NBC News. "I
would see people in the supermarkets with animals in the shopping cart
or walking around sniffing all the food."
Exactly how big a problem the use of fake service animals isn't clear.
No organization keeps records of illegitimate service animals. But
people who work in the service, hospitality and entertainment
industries have seen it all.
Image: Service Dogs
A contingent of NEADS Service Dog teams and others gather to show
support for House Bill 2277, an act relative to misrepresentation of
service animals, outside of the Massachusetts State House in Boston on
Sep. 12, 2017.David L. Ryan / Boston Globe via Getty Images
Andrew Hendrickson, a northern Vermont resident who volunteers
regularly at a local performance venue, has seen it all too often.
"We've had dogs bark through the whole show, sit in the middle of the
aisle,” said Hendrickson, who added that he once even saw one "hump
the legs of a stranger."
The venue allows people to enter with animals they say are for service
"It's kind of hard to question though," he said. "We have very little
grounds on which to challenge a patron who claims the animal as a
Animal and legal experts say that the explosion of reported problems
is due to several factors.
There is no uniform nationwide certification or registration process
for legitimate service animals — which receive up to several years of
specialized training — making it easy for people to scam a
non-existent system. And the easy availability online of "service dog"
harnesses and vests is all too tempting for animal-owners who want
company running errands and going out.
Most prominent, however, is that a new generation of animal-lovers are
seeking notes from their doctors declaring that their pet helps soothe
anxiety or ease depression and that the animals should be deemed
"support animals." Support animals, however, don't qualify as service
animals, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act — the
governing law of all service animals, according to experts.
Under the ADA, only dogs can be considered service animals — with an
exception for miniature horses.
Business owners, according to the federal law, can only ask two
questions of anyone who says they have a service dog.
"They can ask only if it is a service animal, and what is it trained
to do," explained David Favre, a law professor at Michigan State
University’s College of Law, whose expertise is animal law. They
cannot ask for documentation and they cannot ask about the disability,
under the law, Favre said.
That makes abuses difficult to enforce.
Image: Service Dogs
More than 20 states have cracked down on those who falsely claim their
pets as service animals so they can bring them on planes, or into
stores, restaurants, theaters and other public places.Laura Fay /
"Are business owners and restaurants really going to go after people
who claim their dog is a service or support animal? If it has a vest
of if the owner says it's helping them? They won't. They don't want to
get sued," said Curt Decker, the executive director of the National
Disability Rights Network.
Likewise, business owners don't want to delve into whether the animal
is a "service" animal — protected under the ADA — or a "support" pet.
Support animals are not protected under the ADA, with exceptions for
those that comfort veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress
"It's compounded by the confusing terminology around this," said Amy
McCullough, the national director of research and therapy programs at
American Humane, an international animal rights nonprofit. "People
prey upon that with the purpose of gaming the system."
The new laws largely do not apply to "support" animals, because
businesses already have the legal right to turn away almost all of
But because most business owners won't risk a suit by asking about
specifics, legislators and advocates are simply hoping that their laws
will discourage support and service animal scammers.
"Keep some posters up...a few timely prosecutions and good media
coverage of those could serve as a good deterrent and a good reminder
that people shouldn't do this," said Decker, of the National
Disability Rights Network.
The new state laws would likely crack down on people like David Chin,
a visual designer from San Francisco. Chin said he visited a
psychiatrist to get letters deeming his dogs, a four-year-old Cockapoo
named Theo and a seven-year-old Bichon Frise named Bailey, as support
animals that helped him with anxiety.
"None of the times was it for a true emotional need, it was for
bending the system," Chin admitted, explaining that he enjoys being
able to take his pups to otherwise restrictive patio restaurants and
It’s that kind of scenario that prompted Republican Minnesota state
Rep. Steve Green to sponsor his state's recently passed bill. Green
said he drafted the legislation after several disabled constituents
told him that their own legitimate service dogs had been fatally
attacked by other dogs whose owners had illegitimately claimed them as
Delta is tightening rules about flying with emotional support animals
Meanwhile, cities and and airlines are trying to sniff out illicit
service animals, too.
In February, a powerful Chicago alderman introduced an ordinance that
would ban illegitimate service animals from the city's two main
airports, and, since the start of the year, Delta and United
Airlinesboth tightened the leash on guidelines for bringing support
animals on plane rides — moves that state legislators pushing for
crackdowns say will help their efforts.
"If you have a legitimate condition and the dog, or whatever animal,
within reason, helps alleviate it, that’s great, this is America,"
said Kavanagh, the Arizona state senator. "But if you're just someone
who needed to have Pookie around because you're upset when she’s not
there, that is not okay."
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