A deceiving trend continues.
The number of dog owners who dress up their pets in fake service vests is increasing. They do it to gain access to public spaces with their dogs. Critics say this kind of cheating must be stopped since it is affecting the rights of the disabled.
Melissa Maher, a veteran with PTSD, takes a professionally trained service dog with her everywhere.
“I couldn’t go to my kids’ school without feeling like two days in my bedroom just to recover.” said Maher.
Chauncey, her 4-year-old Golden Retriever, alerts her when her pulse rate goes up, indicating a panic attack. Federal law allows Maher to take Chauncey anywhere she pleases. But, Maher is worried thatthe new trend may put her access at risk.
The problem is people are misrepresenting their pets as service dogs so they can take theminto establishments—malls, restaurants, or on airplanes.
“They put that vest on Fifi, take him into the store. All of a sudden I’ve got a Chihuahua in a shopping cart barking at my dog. That dog isn’t trained to behave and ends up distracting or harming other people or my dog.” Maher said.S
Another service dog owner Kristie Baker is just as upset.
“They’ll bark, they’ll growl at people, they’ll pee inside a building and merchants are becoming a little bit… cautious.” she said.
Baker is a polio survivor and she says she, too, has come across a growing number of service dog imposters. The deceiving trend is forcing some business owners to treat her suspiciously after they’ve encountered someone’s untrained pooch.
The federal law governing service dogs and their training is loosely enforced. There is also limited response by business owners’ so it is very easy for pet owners to abuse.
Today, anyone can purchase service dog vests and I.D.’s online. And according to the law, business owners can only ask two questions when they come across a service animal: “Is that a service dog?” and “What tasks does it perform?”
“They cannot ask what the disability is. They can’t ask for any kind of certification or training papers or anything like that.” said lawyer Lisa Kupricka, who specializes in ADA cases.
The Americans with Disabilities Act does not require service dogs to be licensed. It is something ADA critics are petitioning the Justice Department to reconsider. According to Kupricka, changing the law just to stop dogs from flying first class could have disadvantages.
“The alternative would be to get into a lot questions about the nature of a person’s disability and other questions that aren’t permitted by the law, and I don’t think would want to be permitted by the law,” she said.
Inthe meantime, people with real service dogs, like Melissa and Kristie, hope pet owners will think twice before abusing the law as they can make it more difficult for people with disabilities and the dogs that service them. Maher says, get your dog trained at the very least.
But whether it is illegal to fake a service dog, the rules differ across the US. One legal expert said it depends on whether you’re trying to gain something deceptively by doing it.
Images: Helping Paws
Source: WMC Action News