Washington State Fights Service Dog Fraud With New Bill

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It would be dishonest if I told you I wouldn’t like to bring my dogs everywhere with me. In fact, I think a lot of pet parents would agree with me that we desperately need more pet-friendly spaces and businesses which allow access to people with their furry companions. But, that doesn’t mean we should start passing off our family pets as highly trained service animals. Not only that it’s utterly unfair to people with disabilities, but it could also make it more difficult for them to realize their rights. In an effort to “help with the public’s acceptance of real service animals,” Washington state officials passed a bill that has the potential to put a stop to pet owners who are misrepresenting their dogs as true service animals.

As of January 2019, Washington Law Against Discrimination will recognize only dogs and certain miniature horses as legitimate service animals. People who try to pass off their pet as an “emotional support dog” or “comfort animal” will find that deception has a hefty price tag when they get a $500 fine for what will now be considered a civil infraction.

Service dogs are trained to help people with disabilities to function independently, but during their training, they’ve also adopted a certain behavior that allows them to be in spaces that are usually pet-free without causing a problem. After all, they are not pampered pets, but working dogs. That’s why it’s unrealistic to think that your dog, no matter how well-mannered, can have the same level of control as a canine who’s been specifically trained to assist an individual with disabilities.

As fake service dogs, or “comfort dogs” as they’re sometimes called, are a hot topic for some time now, we can expect more states to jump on the wagon and pass bills that fine irresponsible pet owners. In fact, Washington state is not even the first to recognize this growing issue, as 18 more states have been cracking down on service dog fraud.