States Cracking Down on the Use of ‘Fake’ Service Dogs

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis
Nineteen states have laws that penalize people who use untrained animals as service pets, with more states looking at similar legislation.

More and more service animals seem to be popping up and several states are cracking down on those who ‘use’ the idea of a service pet to bring pets in places they would not normally be allowed. People passing their pets off as service animals has motivated states like Virginia and Colorado to enact laws that prohibit the action and Massachusetts is also looking at similar legislation.

Related: Why Can’t I Pet Service Dogs?

Massachusetts Representative Kimberly Ferguson introduced a bill that would restrict people from doing so, saying that any pet owner can just go online and buy a ‘service’ fest for their pet so they can go to restuarants, hotels and other places that they wouldn’t normally be allowed. Ferguson says this is an issue because it not only gives real service dogs a bad name because they aren’t properly trained, but it could lead to dangerous situations with untrained dogs.

The American Humane Associaton says there are about 20,000 service dogs in the United States, being utilized by people who use wheelchairs or have mobility issues, or have seizures or other medical conditions that dogs assist with. Those who support the laws regulating service dog declaration say that people who falsely pass their dogs off as service dogs are similar to those who get handicapped signs for parking spaces when they do not need them. Much like using a handicapped placard under false pretenses, supporters say that laws that fine people for misrepresenting their pets as service animals should also apply in similar manners.

It’s a bit of a sticky issue, though, as there is no official certification or registry of service dogs who legitimately meet needs, and so there is not a really easy way to enforce laws that prohibit the misrepresentation. More, there is a growing group of dogs who people consider their ’emotional support’ dogs, and these dogs particularly concern lawmakers with the inconsistency in training and ability.

Legitimate service dogs are given up to two years of costly training, and are not just placed with their humans without training and interaction observation. Wait times for legitimate service dogs are sometimes two years or greater.

Service dog vests, however, can be bought online for about $20 and look very much like the vests that legitimate service dogs wear for identification. One difference, however, is that service dogs are never carried in purses or shopping carts, unless performing a specific task. So, should you see a dog in someone’s purse as she’s wandering up the grocery aisle, you can pretty much assume that dog is not a service dog.

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects those with disabilities, requiring any place open to the public to allow service dogs access with their owners. The only questions the public place can ask is whether the dog is needed because of a disability, and if so, what the dog’s aid is for. There is no way to prove that the answers someone provides are legitimate, and particularly in the case of emotional support dogs–which are not covered by the ADA–the fur can fly.

Related: Surviving Family Of Modesto Police Officer Will Adopt His K9 Service Dog

Some public places will simply allow all dogs regardless, not wanting to confront and decipher, while others will not let any dogs in, even if that means they break the law.

Generally speaking, though, advocates for those with disabilities and service dogs have a long-term goal in mind–that of national certification and registry for legitimate service dogs.

Here are the 19 states that have l aws that regarding fake service animals:

  • Florida
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

More by Lori Ennis