Posted on November 15, 2015
Fake Service Dogs
First things first, I wish to issue forth a disclaimer. As the mother of a child who relies on a wheelchair to get from point A to point B, I recognize that I am likely more sensitive about the topic of service dog fraud than the average Joe (or Josephine).
Take your dog anywhere!
The Google ad reads, “Take Your Dog Anywhere!” and it connects to OfficialServiceDogRegistry.com. Here it states,
We expect and hope that you will use this registry as intended and in a responsible and respectful manner. Registration is conducted under the honor system and we are not required to verify any disability or review any documentation to verify any disability.
Faking it is easy
Registering a service dog on OfficialServiceDogRegistry.com is super fast and easy. All one must do is complete a very simple online form. There is no verification process, and registration is immediate. The registration setup fee is $39, dog and human ID cards are $54 each ($35 without photos), and a service dog vest costs $54-$76, depending on size.
I suspect that business at OfficialServiceDogRegistry.com is booming. I also suspect that those in charge of this business are well aware that their honor system isn’t being used honorably. Is it any wonder that the number of fake service dogs is growing exponentially?
On a recent flight from North Carolina to New York I counted five dogs sporting service vests seated beside or at the feet of their human companions. Same thing in Home Depot last week- an adorable Pomeranian, a German Shepherd pup, and a bouncy mutt all “in-vested” and, in theory, providing assistance during hardware, paint, and lumber shopping.
Why are people faking it?
Why would folks put service vests on their non-service dogs? It’s simple. They want their dogs to be able to go wherever they go, be it shopping, eating in restaurants, or flying on airplanes. Believe me, I understand the temptation, but there oodles of temptations that I say “no” to because they are illegal and/or unethical. Committing service dog fraud isn’t illegal (except in Florida- see below), but it sure as heck is unethical.
Untrained fake service dogs can be disruptive in public venues. When a business limits the number of service dogs allowed, such as on an airplane, the pretenders may prevent legitimate service dogs from gaining access. The bottom line is, faking a disability in order to gain privileges is never okay, and is profoundly disrespectful to people with disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
I am a huge fan of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was enacted by the United States Congress in 1990, and opened so many doors for people with disabilities. As well intended as the ADA is, its rules pertaining to service dogs are so loosey goosey that they almost invite fakers to abuse the system.
The ADA stipulates that businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service dogs into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. This federal law applies to any and all public businesses.
When it comes to investigating whether or not a dog dressed in a vest is a legitimate service dog, business employees’ hands are relatively tied. Even if the dog is unruly and disruptive, employees are allowed to ask only the following two questions of the person accompanying the animal:
- Is this a service animal required because of a disability?
- What tasks has the animal been trained to do?
Asking questions about the individual’s disability and requesting identification card verification (although such cards are easy to obtain) are taboo as is requesting that the dog demonstrate what it is trained to do.
Putting a kabosh on fakers
I’m aware of only a couple of efforts to curb service dog fraud. A relatively new law in Florida classifies misrepresenting a dog as a service animal as a second degree misdemeanor. Individuals who are caught face a $500 fine and up to 60 days of jail time. Here’s the rub. Given ADA regulations (see above) it is extremely difficult to catch a faker. Florida attorney Jason Quick explains, “Probably the way this would come up is if the animal were to destroy property, attack someone or cause some type of incident, and it would be investigated.” In other words, something pretty extreme must transpire in order to make the case.
Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a longstanding service dog organization based in Santa Rosa, California, has a goal of collecting 50,000 signatures from people who pledge to stop service dog fraud. The hope is that these signatures will urge federal regulators to block the online sale of fake service dog certificates, vests, leashes, and other products from official-looking websites. I have taken the pledge and hope you will as well.
Lastly, please know that I did not write this article with the intent that you will begin to view people and their service dogs with skepticism. Rather, my hope is that, in addition to taking the CCI pledge, you will speak up loudly and clearly if someone you know “brags” about how they bucked the system in order gain public access for their dog.
Keep in mind that, eventually each and every one of us will become disabled in some capacity. Faking a disability before that time comes is unconscionable.
How do you weigh in on this topic?
Wishing you and your four-legged family members much good health and happiness throughout the holiday season.
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.