The use of service, guide, and emotional support dogs have provided help for many, but some states are cracking down on owners taking advantage of the label.
Nineteen states across the country are enacting laws to crack down on people attempting to pass their dogs off as service animals, according to a recent USA Today report. With approximately 20,000 trained service dogs working to help those in need of physical and emotional assistance all over the country, the plan hopes to prevent people from bringing untrained animals into public spaces such as grocery stores and restaurants for the sake of convenience.
"Today, any pet owner can go online and buy a vest for a dog to pass it off as a service animal to gain access to restaurants, hotels, and places of business," Republican state Rep. Kimberly Ferguson, who introduced the Massachusetts bill, told the news outlet.
"Their animals aren't trained and end up misbehaving in these public places, which gives real service dogs a bad name."
So why crack down on untrained dogs in businesses? According to some legitimate service dog owners, they're avoiding going into certain establishments altogether for fear of running into someone with an untrained "service" animal, some of whom have even attacked their service companion while working.
Additionally, the influx of "fake" service animals has caused some business owners to ban all dogs, even those trained to guide or emotionally support their handlers, despite violating federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Emotional support animals are not covered by the ADA law and can legally be banned. But service dogs are rigorously trained to perform specific tasks for their owners, and a pet dog that simply has a service dog vest may not behave like a true service dog.
Because there is no official registry or certification that states the legitimacy of a true and trained service animal, the laws will be hard to enforce. At this point, they are being used more to educate everyone of the impact misrepresenting a service animal can have on the public, and lives of those who truly need their companion animal.
"Maybe you can scare some people into being honest," says David Favre, a law professor at Michigan State University College of Law and editor of its Animal Legal and Historical Center website.
The eventual creation of an official registry is listed as a long-term goal in the proposed Massachusetts bill, to hopefully prevent "fakes" from preventing accessibility from those in need.
Have you seen a fake service dog? What do you think of service dog fraud? Tell us in the comments.
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