Hawaii lawmakers have introduced a law that would make it a crime to falsely present an animal as a service animal.
The law introduced in January would make the act of falsely claiming an animal to be a service animal a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a maximum penalty of up to six months in jail or up to $1,000 for the first offense.
Democrat state Sen. Russell Ruderman of Puna sponsored the bill. He said it’s intended to prevent people from abusing the system and bringing untrained pets into public places, which can lead to owners of legitimate service animals being treated with suspicion.
“There are two kinds of animals we’re talking about,” Ruderman said. “There are the (Americans with Disabilities Act) service animals. Then there are the so-called ‘comfort animals’ or ‘emotional support’ animals.”
Ruderman said that problems arise when people claim their pet is a service animal.
“People are cautious about challenging people who say that,” Ruderman said.
Some service animal supporters said the measure is needed to protect those who actually have disabilities, but critics said it would be too hard to enforce.
Hawaii Fi-Do Service Dogs specializes in training dogs to help people with diagnosed disabilities. Executive Director Jim Kennedy said several states across the country have already passed similar laws.
“It’s an important first step to start a really long needed education program in the state of Hawaii about the problem with fake service dogs,” Kennedy said.
The state Attorney General’s office said a law would be challenging to enforce because an investigator would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the animal wasn’t trained to be a service dog.
Ruderman said he agrees enforcement would be difficult, but that he believes the law could help crack down on the issue.