Why Isn’t Service Dog Fraud Against The Law?

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It started in New York. Pet owners who were out shopping, eating or going to the movies didn’t want to leave their pets at home or tied up outside businesses. So, they devised a workaround; they went online and purchased fake service dogs vests to pass off their pup as a working animal. When the problem was reported in The New York Post, one source, a restaurateur, even bragged that his fake service dog teacup Yorkie helped him pick up girls in nightclubs.

What seemed like a small, isolated problem grew into a large global issue. On July 1, a law went into effect in Florida to protect the rights of disabled persons and their service animals. The law addresses that growing problem: People adorning their pet dogs in a vest and calling them a service animal to get them into businesses that don’t allow pets.

Related: September Is National Service Dog Month

Anyone can buy a vest and certification paper online to pass off a pet dog as a service dog. But service dogs are not pet dogs, and those impostors cause major problems for real service dogs.

Untrained, fake service dogs disrupt true working dogs. Badly-behaved dogs wearing a service dog vest sour the perception of working dogs for other patrons. Irritated restaurant and shop owners are stuck trying to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) while feeling like they have no recourse when badly-behaved dogs are passed off as service animals. Some business owners attempted to refuse service, which put them in a sticky position because the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.

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A messy situation that makes it more difficult for real service dogs to do their jobs.

Because the ADA prohibits businesses to ask about a person’s specific disabilities, the law in Florida and the Department of Justice encourage business owners to ask two questions: First, is the dog a service animal? Second, what is it trained to do?

The Florida law also will help real service dog teams avoid discrimination. It weeds out phonies, but it also penalizes businesses that refuse to serve disabled persons with their service animal.

Advocacy organizations urge the Department of Justice to crack down on service dog fraud. You can take action. Canine Companions for Independence launched a petition, the Pledge To Stop Service Dog Fraud. Sign it today and help put a stop to people who try to cheat the system.