This Fall's Hottest Accessory: Fake Service Dogs?

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A growing number of dog owners are trying to pass their untrained companions off as service animals - and they're actually getting away with it. Many owners who want to take their dogs into movie theaters, restaurants, or on public transit see it as a quick solution, but people with disabilities are starting to complain that the number of "imposters" is making it hard for people with legitimate service animals to be taken seriously.

This Fall

It turns out it's not hard to do - there is no national regulation for licensing service animals. Owners do not have any kind of special ID for their pets, and they are allowed to purchase service dog harnesses and vests without providing proof that their dog has been trained to meet any particular special needs. Unfortunately, there is no law against selling knock-off service dog gear.

Lauren Henderson, a California actor with mobility problems, told NPR in a recent interview that she's seeing untrained "service dogs" more and more often. Because service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for their owners, like guiding the blind, pulling wheelchairs, or even assisting in treatment for illness, they don't behave like a pet would. They don't sit on their owner's laps, growl at strangers or stop to mark their territory. Henderson worries these poorly-behaved dogs will reflect badly on people with legitimate needs and cause business owners to discriminate against her.

She's right to worry. People often don't know how to tell the difference between a licensed service dog and a fake, so service dog handlers risk being harassed at airports, denied service at restaurants and even having their helpers barred from classrooms when a manager takes one look at the animal and decides it's not really necessary.

In the past few months alone, there are have been headlines nationwide about people with disabilities being unlawfully denied their service dogs - from Iraq and Vietnam war veterans with combat-related issues, to a diabetic middle schooler whose dog was barred from monitoring her blood sugar levels in the classroom.

Unfortunately, the people who try to pass off their pets as service dogs are rarely aware of the impact it has on legitimate service animal owners. They see it as a way to avoid leaving their dogs tied up outside and to spend more quality time together - or as a way to pick up dates, as one owner admitted in a recent New York Post article.

So what's the solution? Confronting people you suspect may be faking a disability will only make the problem worse - especially if you turn out to be wrong. Instead, we need to start lobbying state governments to better regulate the licensing of service animals. Making it a crime to sell fake service dog gear would also go a long way toward solving the problem.

More articles from Care2:
Free Eye Exams For Service Dogs
From Service Dog to Surfer Dog (VIDEO)
Senator Franken's First Bill

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The fake “Service Dog” problem has been building for YEARS.
The solution is simple: an annual “prescription” for this item.
I have to get a monthly prescription to get physical therapy.
It would be no bother to get a yearly one for my Service Dog.

Here’s a video RANT I made after Jane Fonda was on TMZ
admitting to having a fake Service Dog with her at an LA restaurant:

Strength Through Unity,

Lynn Julian

January 08 2014 at 11:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow! As soon as I read this I knew I had to respond. I live in a very large, wonderful apartment complex and pets are allowed, even large dogs. There are however some specific breeds that are banned. Tenants that had one of the banned dogs had them grandfathered in when that policy took effect. There was an older tenant who certainly didn\'t exhibit any behaviors that one could conclude her disability was her knees, as she walked perfectly well, could run, stoop etc., but she had a Rottweiler for many years that was grandfathered in. When that dog died she replaced it with a Rottweiler puppy and insisted that is was the deceased dog!!!! When that didn\'t fly, she insisted the he was a \"service dog\" that she needed to help her walk, and she was quite vocal about it to all that she would happen upon, and wasn\'t nice about it at all. She felt persecuted?? She was a small woman who could not manage that dog at all. He walked her, he jumped up onto her which knocked her to the ground etc., so when a tenant pointed out to her the ban on Rottweiler\'s she became quite nasty and insisted it was a service dog. The dog didn\'t even have any training whatsoever, and when he was out he put the fear of God into everyone, and especially other dogs. As an aside she didn\'t even have the decency to pick up her dog\'s poop at all. I\'m talking a big pile here and it got so bad I took pictures for the office. She was advised by management that the dog had to go, or she had to. She chose to stay with the dog and refused to leave. Then she stopped paying rent at all for months. She was finally told she was being evicted. She started to look for a new apartment that would allow her Rottweiler, and couldn\'t find one. But, she did find a subsidized senior living apartment that is owned and operated by the county and that had a NO pets at all policy but since she was adamant the dog was a service dog, they decided to rent to her anyway, as they didn\'t think there was a legal way to deny her. SMH The existing tenants at the new place weren\'t even advised this was going to happen and I felt horrible for those seniors that weren\'t allowed any pet but now had to deal with the unpredictable behavior of the Rottweiler. This is unacceptable on so many levels and yet she was able to get away with it and those that don\'t like it, too bad. How she seems to think that her wants supercede all others is obscene.

October 10 2013 at 10:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am Hearing impaired, I use a signal dog (service dog) to help me with daily life functions. My dog has been trained in basic/Intermediate/advanced obedience by certified dog trainers, she has been tested for public access and passed. I have self trained her for my individual needs as related to my disability. There is no such Govt certification for a service dogs, only some schools (dog training type) will certify that the dog trained by them is a service dog. There is not enough trained dogs for the number of disabled people that require the partnership and assistance that a service dog provides. However I carry proof of my hearing disability which is noted of my Driver License. The ADA permits the disabled to train their service animals to meet their individual needs. The Justice Department will not proceed with a legal action for a violation of the ADA laws unless there is some form of training, and a clear/concise proof of the human partners disability.

October 07 2013 at 9:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Darcy Davis

Good article...but actually, the best way to stop all this faking already exists in the laws. While proprietors can only ask the two questions, and must admit any dog claimed as a service animal, they also can order said dog removed from the premises if their behavior risks health or safety of others. In other words, if a dog starts acting up - growling, jumping up, peeing in the store, etc., in other words things a trained service dog would NEVER do - then they can and should be removed, with the owner having the chance to come back in without the dog to shop/eat/etc. That is written in the ADA law.
And, since a clean, well behaved and trained dog is not a problem, whether it's really and truly a service animal or not (tho it should be), we can "ignore" those and focus on making sure the fake ones are dealt with. :)

September 30 2013 at 6:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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