People are reaping the benefits of the services for people with disabilities by disguising their dogs as service dogs to travel, shop, and even go to night clubs. This is a new trend in our society, and a despicable one at that.
Marcie Davis , founder of the International Assistance Dog Awareness Week said, “People think what they’re doing is harmless but it’s not. It’s very harmful.”
Davis who is a paraplegic uses a real service dog, one that’s been trained and certified over hundreds of hours. “This is jeopardizing people like me who really need a service dog. It’s jeopardizing our ability to be a working team out in public,” he said. In her opinion the fake service dog problem is an epidemic that’s happening all across the country.
In a New York Post story, several dog owners boasted about fake practices. They purchase vests, patches and certificates online, they take their dogs grocery shopping, to the theater and the nightclub. “He’s been to most movie theaters in the city and more nightclubs than most of my friends,” the owner of a Yorkie told the newspaper.
According to Davis you just need to provide a photo and you can get an ID. It is very easy to purchase the equipment and documentation needed to make a dog look legitimate.
On eBay you will find more than 20.000 results when you search for “service dog patches” and “service dog vests”. On several websites you will be able to buy similar items for as much as $ 150 after answering just a few questions.
According to Davis the fakers are also taking advantage of laws that limit the interaction a business owner can have with a disabled person. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits requiring identification documents for a service animal and does not allow any questioning about specifics of a person’s disability.
“This is a safety issue for people with disabilities and the general public,” Davis said. She knows firsthand what it’s like to be in a situation involving a fake service dog that threatens the safety of those around it.
“My second assistance dog was actually attacked by a dog at a professional conference by someone who was trying to pass off their pet as an assistance dog who had no business being in public,” Davis said.
In her view it is pretty easy to spot the fakers. Her dog is highly trained and almost invisible in public. That’s not the case with frauds. “They’re disruptive, they’re eating food in restaurants and they’re acting very inappropriately,” Davis said.
Trained service dogs act very differently. “They are supposed to be very quiet and go under a table or chair and really be unseen when they are out in public.”
It is not a requirement of ADA for service animals to be certified, which may be part of the problem. The law does not require an owner to have a documented disability and requires the animal to be trained to help its handler. Service animals cannot disrupt their environments.
“There needs to be some accountability,” Davis said.
Some states are moving to make service dog fraud a crime. In Davis’ home state of New Mexico, law makers have already passed a law that included penalties for trying to pass a dog off as a fake assistance dog.
The problem is so widespread that the nation’s largest breeding and training program for service dogs, Canine Companions for Indepence, launched an online petition asking the U.S. Department of Justice to crack down on service dog fraud and end the online sale of fake service dog certification products.
Article and image source: CBS Chicago