Fake service dog certifications are a growing and disturbing trend. FOX31 Denver investigated in an attempt to get to the bottom of the dishonest and disgusting practice.
It takes years of hard work and training to become a service dog! Some people have the nerve to fake it! This gives good service dogs a bad name! Disabled people, who have legitimate service dogs, are worried about the increasing number of service dog imposters.
FOX31 Denver investigated service dog imposters and found dozens of websites selling service animal certifications, and animal vets and ID cards, to pet owners. This documentation allows the fraudsters to take their furry friends to restaurants, malls, and on airplanes!
Colorado-based National Service Animal Registry (NSAR) offers service animal certifications, vests, and badges for $64. On their website, they also sell emotional support animal kits from Chilhowee Psychological Services for $164 – including a letter from a licensed therapist.
During the investigation,a FOX31 Denver producer, ordered the support animal kit. Getting one required the producer to take an online test and talk on the phone twice with a woman “from Sutherland Counseling.”
The producer received a letter from a licensed professional counselor certifying her as mentally disabled. The letter was signed by a certain Stanford S. Sutherland and said that the producer “is under my care …” and that he is currently treating her for a “mental health disability”. Sutherland had never met her as a patient, nor did he ever speak to her on the phone.
The Chilhowee Psychological Services website, features clinicians, CEO Timothy Livingood, a certified counselor in Oregon, and Stanford Sutherland, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) in Colorado Springs. NSAR and Chilhowee Psychological Service’s websites operate from the same office building in Woodland Park, Colorado.
FOX31 Denver asked Sutherland and the company’s CEO for their comment.
A statement from Livingood says:
“Are we certain that every customer has a valid disability? Because our products are not required and carry no legal authority, it is possible that some customers are dishonest in an attempt to take advantage of the legal system by posing as disabled (although the products may be purchased elsewhere with no questions asked, while (we) requires a customer to affirm they qualify as disabled.”
The FOX31 team received no response from Sutherland, so they went to the offices of Chilhowee Psychological services and the National Service Dog Registry in Woodland Park.
They found no counselors or dog trainers, but they did find service animal vests and people processing orders. They were told that these were Chilhowee’s administrative office and that Sutherland Counseling is located 20 miles away in Colorado Springs.
They went there and requested an interview with Sutherland, who refused to come out of a private office. His wife, Lillie Sutherland said, “You need to go on our website, you need to contact me and I will talk to you when I’m not so busy…” The team did just that, but she still refused to talk to them.
According to Sean Boyd, the president of the Colorado Counselor’s Association, it is impossible to diagnose a mental disability with an online test and two phone calls.
“There are a lot of red flags for sure,” Boyd said.“This is a really big label, it’s a very serious diagnosis and the course of treatment needs to be handled with care.”
He believes Sutherland could be violating the counselor’s code of ethics. Boyd said, “That’s very upsetting to me. That should not be happening. That should not be happening.”
The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies can only take action against after receiving complaints about a counselor.
Meanwhile, CEO, Tim Livingood, who claims to be a “certified counselor” in Oregon seems to be faker. Oregon’s licensing board confirms he has never had a license.
A Colorado law prohibits people from passing themselves off as disabled. It is a class 1 petty offense.
Image source: Service Dog Awareness/Facebook