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Impostor service animals posing growing problem

By Sue Manning

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 09:28 a.m. HST, Oct 10, 2013


LOS ANGELES » It's an easy law to break, and dog cheats do. By strapping a vest or backpack that says "service animal" to their pet, anyone can go in stores and restaurants where other dogs are banned, creating growing problems for the disabled community and business owners and leading to calls for better identifying the real deal.

Those with disabilities are worried about privacy and the safety of their highly trained service dogs, while business owners are concerned about health violations and damage to merchandise from impostors abusing the system.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it's a federal crime to use a fake dog. And about a fourth of all states have laws against service animal misrepresentation. But privacy protections built into the laws make it nearly impossible to prosecute offenders. It's even more difficult because no papers are legally required for real service dogs. Often, people who want to take their pets into restaurants or retail stores just go online to buy vests, backpacks or ID cards with a "service animal" insignia.

The law says those entering businesses with animals can be asked just two questions: Is this a service dog? What is it trained to do for you?

Efforts to make the law more prosecutable have begun, but few agree on what will work best. Ideas range from ditching privacy to doing nothing.

Corey Hudson, chief executive officer of Canine Companions for Independence in San Rafael and president of Assistance Dogs International, a coalition of training schools, is leading the effort to get the U.S. Department of Justice involved. He started writing to the agency 18 months ago but has not received a response.

Hudson wants to open talks and explore ways to identify the real from the phony.

But the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners in Michigan worries that bringing in the Justice Department could set back access rights won by those with disabilities in the past 20 years.

"While we deplore those who might be so unethical as to impersonate a disabled person by dressing their dog up as a service animal, we equally deplore the frenzy of alarm being stirred up about the risk of such abuse," said Joan Froling, chairwoman of the IAADP.

There needs to be a standard, said Jennifer Arnold, founder of Canine Assistants in Atlanta. "The sticky part is who will do the testing and what will be the criteria for allowing dogs to be considered assistance dogs."

An ID card might be the simplest answer, she said, adding that she doesn't think the loss of privacy will be the big issue that some think it will be.

There is a big difference in the behavior of real service dogs and impostors inside businesses, experts said. A true service dog becomes nearly invisible. Pets might bark, urinate, sniff, scratch and eat off the floor.

Real service dogs can be the victims of unruly fakes, said Wallis Brozman, 27, of Santa Rosa. She has dystonia, a movement disorder that left her unable to walk and barely able to talk. She needs a wheelchair, voice amplifier and her service dog, Caspin, who responds to English and sign language.

"When my dog is attacked by an aggressive dog, he is not sure what to do about it and looks to me. It becomes a safety issue, not only for my dog, the target of the attack, but for me if I am between the dogs," Brozman said.

Business owners also face problems. In August, Russell Ireland banned a dog from his Oxford, Mass., diner after its owner put a plate of food on the floor for the dog.

James Glasser claimed it was a legitimate service animal and took part in a boycott of the diner. There was talk of a lawsuit. Ireland apologized. The dog's actual status is unclear.

Cook Justin Fisher said his boss' reputation took a beating. Business is just now returning to normal.

Marv Tuttle, a volunteer guide at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said he believes he spots phony service dogs two or three times a week. He has also experienced the other side. Tuttle uses a service dog, Yara, because of a spinal cord injury from a traffic accident, and he and his wife were once stopped from entering a furniture store. "A girl greeted us and said she'd be glad to hold my dog outside," he said.

The clerk told them that two weeks earlier, a fake was allowed in the store and urinated on several expensive Indian carpets.

In terms of solving the dilemma, Tuttle doesn't think any kind of legislation will work.

"They can write new laws, but there is no way to enforce them. We don't have enough police to stop murders, much less stop people from hauling around pseudo service dogs," he said.

Online:

» www.cci.org
» www.assistancedogsinternational.org
» www.canineassistants.org
» www.specialkidsscuba.org







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HAJAA1 wrote:
You "journalists" at SA really need to work on your headlines.
on October 10,2013 | 02:32AM
CriticalReader wrote:
Can we first do something about the guys and girls with tattoos galore at our beaches insisting on letting their unleashed dogs romp through people's beach set ups and into the water? That's been illegal for way longer, I think.
on October 10,2013 | 12:18PM
serious wrote:
From previous articles in the SA about this situation, our State law says that the person with the dog must be handicapped and the dog taught to do certain tasks. In our condominium, which is "no dogs", we have dozens of service "therapy" dogs---bunch of bull, but management is afraid of attacking the situation due to the threat of a lawsuit.
on October 10,2013 | 02:42AM
CriticalReader wrote:
Can we first do something about the guys and girls with tattoos galore at our beaches insisting on letting their unleashed dogs romp through people's beach set ups and into the water? That's been illegal for way longer, I think.
on October 10,2013 | 12:19PM
CEI wrote:
ID cards for service dogs? If I was a dog I'd be offended. After all you don't even need ID to vote in most states.
on October 10,2013 | 03:25AM
kiragirl wrote:
No kidding (giggle).
on October 10,2013 | 06:00AM
CriticalReader wrote:
Dogs should need two forms of ID before being given an ID card. And, if they're ID names don't match their birth certificates, proof of name change. And, they'd BETTER be able to read English or Ilicano! We do not have the funds to have everything translated into hound.
on October 10,2013 | 12:15PM
Makiki_Al wrote:
I split my time between Hawaii and the mainland and it seems like there are WAY more "service" animals in Hawaii. While not service animal related, why is it that a good number of Honolulu dog owners feel that the No Animal postings at Ala Moana and various Farmers Markets don't pertain to them? I regularly see dogs at both places and a number of them at Ala Moana are not on a leash.
on October 10,2013 | 04:04AM
peanutgallery wrote:
Anyone who would take advantage of this needs to be publically shamed as soon as possible.
on October 10,2013 | 04:21AM
nitpikker wrote:
shamed AND pay a heavy fine. problem is, these people feel no shame.
on October 10,2013 | 05:46AM
control wrote:
Its a common problem here. Too many me, Me, ME's who believe they and their pooches are special and entitled.
on October 10,2013 | 05:33AM
lokela wrote:
I person who poses their dog as a service one must also fake being handicapped. Usually most service dogs are for the deaf, blind or needing a wheelchair to get by. People who fake those disabilities must be desperate.
on October 10,2013 | 07:02AM
miss_laulau wrote:
They're not desperate, they are selfish and like "control" mentioned, these people feel they are entitled to bring their dogs into the store, some nerve, one of my biggest pet peeves. I approached a woman once and asked her why her dog was not wearing a vest and she said because it was too hot. Then I asked what her disability was and she said asthma so I asked if she had a note from her doctor saying she needed a service animal and she turned and walked away from me. I wondered what her dog was trained to do if she had an attack? Dogs are not allowed to sit in the shopping cart but I have seen a woman come into the store with her own cart with six dogs sitting in the cart. Now hello! Tell me those dogs were service dogs. Ridiculous! But what really upsets me the most is that they show no respect for the people who truly need the service animals. I hope something can be done. It's not the animals that are fake, it's their owners...shame on them!
on October 10,2013 | 07:39AM
Anonymous wrote:

I completely agree that people who bring pets where pets are not allowed are selfish, and they're especially douche-tastic when they do it, claiming that their pet is a service animal. Things to keep in mind:

1. Service animals are not required to wear anything, including vests, to identify themselves as service animals.

2. If you're the property owner or agent of a property owner, the only questions you're legally allowed to ask of someone entering your property with what may possibly be a service animal is:

(a) Is that a service animal? (The only allowable service animals are dogs and miniature horses)

(b) Do you have a medical condition requiring a service animal? (You cannot ask what that condition is.) (c) What is your animal trained to do? (3) There are only certain medical conditions which would require a service animal. There are, however, "therapy animals" which are not protected by any laws and can be prohibited, like pets. Service animals cannot be prohibited.

To be clear:

A service dog assists an individual who has a mobility impairment with tasks including, but not limited to, providing balance and stability, retrieving items and pulling wheelchairs.

Dog Guide assists an individual who is blind or visually impaired with tasks such as, but not limited to, aiding in navigation and alerting the individual to dangers such as moving cars.

Hearing Dog assists an individual who is deaf or hearing impaired by alerting the individual to the presence of sounds or people.

Alert/Response Dog alerts an individual to a seizure or other medical condition.

Psychiatric Service Dog aids an individual with a cognitive, psychiatric or neurological disability.

Therapy dogs, emotional support dogs and companion dogs are NOT service dogs under the ADA.

Source: ADA.gov.
on October 10,2013 | 11:19AM
Slow wrote:
Under Obamacare everyone gets a service rhino. Or was it a gnu? Python? Anyway Obama is really bad.
on October 10,2013 | 07:17AM
lowtone123 wrote:
What people won't do to get away with something.
on October 10,2013 | 07:21AM
awahana wrote:
Especially in the aloha state. Lots of aloha, for ourselves.
on October 10,2013 | 11:04AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
I prefer the dogs to the unruly kids and homeless people.
on October 10,2013 | 07:26AM
ryan02 wrote:
For the most part, phony service dogs don't actually harm the truly disabled people -- I know that article mentioned an aggressive non-service dog, but that could happen anywhere, like on a street with a regular (non-service and non-phony-service) dog that just happens to be on the street. The bigger problem to me are people who take up resources for the disabled, such as disabled parking, or claiming to be disabled to get a wheelchair at the airport in order to skip long lines. Those are limited resources, and the phonies are taking away limited resources from the disabled. But for the most part, phony service dogs don't take away any resources from the disabled, so I don't see it as a big problem. They should tackle the other problems caused by phonies first (disabled parking, wheelchairs at airports, etc).
on October 10,2013 | 07:44AM
loquaciousone wrote:
This is not right. I should be able to bring my "service" cockroach wherever I want.
on October 10,2013 | 08:18AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
OK but I'll bring my "service" slippah.
on October 10,2013 | 08:45AM
awahana wrote:
So you come alone?
on October 10,2013 | 11:05AM
kahu808 wrote:
There are companies out there who sell the service animal ID and patches don't require certification when you buy these items. Probably a lot of misuse out there.
on October 10,2013 | 08:27AM
kennie1933 wrote:
When or why did this become a problem? When I was younger, dogs stayed at home when the family went out. Occasionally, you'd see a service dog, but there was usually a blind person right behind. Nowadays, I understand you can get a "service" dog for emotional problems, too. Maybe I'm not empathetic because I'm not at an emotional state where I need a dog by my side 24/7, but it's getting ridiculous. Like some of you said...it's all about ME!
on October 10,2013 | 08:39AM
entrkn wrote:
I'm for seeing eye dogs only as service animals...!
on October 10,2013 | 09:06AM
likewise wrote:
A true service dog is a highly trained animal that someone has spent a lot of time and money on in order to assist them in their daily lives. Emotional support animals do not fit this criteria and should not be considered in the same category. Lots of people try and get around the no pets allowed rules in rental units by presenting their animal as a service animal. That is not fair for the rest of the tenants who are abiding by the rules. The law's really do need to be clarified. To many gray areas create opportunities for abuse. Because your dog makes you happy does NOT make it a service dog.
on October 10,2013 | 09:21AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
So there are no problems with impostor service cats?
on October 10,2013 | 09:54AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
To a cat, we are "service" humans.
on October 10,2013 | 10:44AM
sanababeets wrote:
And dogs in STROLLERS don't count either! I see people going into grocery stores with their dogs in strollers like its ok cause they're "confined". Really?!
on October 10,2013 | 10:51AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
Simple solution: Have all those authorized carry a card with their picture that states that they are authorized to have service dogs. Anyone caught trying to cheat the system will be fined and/or imprisoned for a certain amount of time.
on October 10,2013 | 11:58AM
CriticalReader wrote:
Can we first do something about the guys and girls with tattoos galore at our beaches insisting on letting their unleashed dogs romp through people's beach set ups and into the water? That's been illegal for way longer, I think.
on October 10,2013 | 12:19PM
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