(170) Service Dog Frauds

 Molly's new profile picture

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

It happens in grocery stores, in public libraries, shopping malls, and even Costco. Fraudulent critters appear almost everywhere. They sport a fancy vest with the gratuitous “Do Not Pet – Service Animal” splashed in black letters over fluorescent orange. With wet noses thrust in the air, they traipse into public places with wiggles, waddles, and a whine that belie their service-animal status. In short, they are frauds!

These crude violators of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) are not to blame, of course. Their owners make them act so. Their owners dress them up and take them into public places, forcing them into a life of reprobation. Many do so because their pets suffer from separation anxiety. Rather than dealing with it properly, taking Fido along on a shopping trip avoids more costly damage to chewed upholstery and knocked over trash when leaving the pet home alone. For others, their pets offer companionship in a hostile world.

Regardless of the excuse, dressing a pet in a service vest and accessing places otherwise prohibited to animals is illegal and constitutes fraud. Such behavior not only creates a bad name for real service dogs, but it undermines the public trust that is needed to ensure that those with legitimate disabilities will have continued public access with their service animals.

Why so many Canine Criminals? 

In the past year, Miss Molly stayed home when my Veteran traveled to the VA Hospital or local clinic. So many Veterans brought their untrained dogs into the VA that Miss Molly found it difficult to maneuver without a “phony” nipping at her dewclaws or growling as she passed by.

We speculate about why the increase in these illegal pups.

First, ADA intended to make it easy for persons with disabilities to take their service animals into public places. The government wanted to ensure the disabled owner received minimum hassle and embarrassment when using a legitimate, trained service animal. As a result, limitations outlined what a business could ask about the animal and the handler’s disability. Over time, business owners often found it easier not to ask about the status than risk legal action for violating a disabled person’s rights. The general public quickly caught on to business’s hesitancy to query about an animal’s status.

Second, the internet makes it easy for anyone to purchase a service vest and even false credentials. No standardization exists for credentialing with no central registry for service dogs. As well, ADA allows one to train their own service animal with minimum restrictions on an animal’s training other than to support a legitimate disability. These loose standards make it easy for pet owners to overstate their status, if questioned.

Third, many businesses welcome pets, beginning with pet stores that gained recognition as “pet-friendly” shopping meccas. Many dog owners tell me that if they can take their pet into pet stores, why not other places, too—a true case of the “camel’s nose under the tent.” (Is there such thing as a service-camel?)

What’s to be Done? 

This issue appears on legislative dockets across the United States with most states having laws in addition to the federal ADA. Many service animal organizations cry out for revisions to ADA to toughen up the federal law and impose penalties for Fido-infractions (my terminology for fraudulent claims of a service animal).

Just last week, the State of Colorado House passed unanimously HB1308 entitled, “Fraudulent Misrepresentation of a Service Animal.” The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Daniel Kagan, proclaimed that fraudulent claims cause “discrimination against legitimate guide, hearing and service dogs.” The bill moved to the Senate for a hearing scheduled on April 11.

If passed into law, fines for a first offense range from $350 to $1,000. For a third or subsequent offense, a fine, ranging between $1,000 and $5,000 may also include community service hours.

Working like a Dog 

Service vestAs with any job, one must master the skills and give their work attention, commitment, and heart to be successful. Working as a service dog is no exception. Our disabled Veterans and others with disabilities depend upon our furry fellows to navigate public places. We must support our career canines by preserving the service animal’s role and right to access public places without the distractions presented by those verminy, untrained imposters.

By the way, entering the VA clinic today, we noticed several newly-posted signs that declared, “Service Animals Only.” Inside, we heard no dog skirmishes and observed only a few well-trained service animals. It seems the VA is cracking down on the scruffy scofflaws!

Post your Comments: 

Have you ever witnessed a service-animal imposter in a public place? What tipped you off that the animal was not a qualified service animal? Please reply below. 

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.

(103) Part II: Interview with Veteran Jeffrey Crockett

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

In Tuesday’s Miss Molly Blog, we printed the first part of an interview with Veteran Jeffrey Crockett about his discrimination lawsuit against the Days Inn in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the first part, we introduced Jeff and his family, including his service dog, Phineas. This blog concludes the interview, as Jeff talks about his reaction to the settlement and his plans for the future.

Jeff’s Reaction to the Settlement

Veteran Jeffrey CrockettReading about the settlement against the Days Inn, I wanted to know Jeff’s reaction and the impact the process had on his family. It surprised me that the cash settlement for his hardship and suffering was minimal. Jeff shared with me his satisfaction with the outcome because the hotel was held accountable for its actions and the settlement included measures to prevent discrimination from occurring against others with service animals. In reference to the damages paid to the family, Jeff responded, “I believe the amount should have been higher than it was. A higher penalty would have ensured that the business would do everything possible to avoid another incident in order to protect its finances.”

Jeff shared that the incident had a huge impact on his life. He suffered severe panic attacks and depression. “I was unable to function for days after the incident and spent most of my time hidden in my house behind the computer, avoiding life and immersing myself in an online world as far away from reality as possible.” The experience left him unable to go outside or in public.

Jeff’s wife, Jennifer, expressed helplessness, watching the event unfold. To this day, she feels apprehensive when making reservations and when accompanying him with his service dog, fearing that they will experience similar rejection. His oldest son also expresses the same fear when accompanying his father and Phineas into a business for the first time.

What would you do differently?

Jeff said he would not do anything differently if a discrimination situation happened again. He advises Veterans not to be afraid to stand up for their rights. “But don’t allow yourself to be baited into a situation where you become the aggressor.” He suggested taking notes to include the date, time, and location of the incident and names/positions of anyone with whom they speak. While he called the police emergency line when the hotel denied him a room, he said he would only recommend that as a last resort.

“My sincere hope is that this action will encourage disabledPhineas tanning on the beach Veterans with service animals to have the courage to stand up to those who would discriminate against them. I also hope this action will help make businesses more aware of the legal costs associated with discriminating against disabled Veterans and their service animals, and force them to educate their staff regarding ADA guidelines and laws.”

Going Forward

Jeff mentioned he had problems initially moving forward. He explained that standing up and fighting for his rights helped him feel better about himself. The fight and victory helped him deal with the pain he felt from the discrimination. “Winning the lawsuit vindicated me by restoring my sense of self-worth.”

When asked about his next challenge, Jeff said, “to continue moving forward and doing my best to deal with my disabilities as best I can. I will continue to stand up for the rights of myself and others, and I will continue to fight against my biggest enemy, myself, while striving to be the best husband, father, son, and citizen that I can be.”

Awesome Crockett

Crockett family with Mickey Mouse

Phineas accompanies six members of the Crockett family on a much deserved R&R with Mickey Mouse

The Graft household and the Miss Molly Team congratulates Jeffrey Crockett for daring to challenge the discrimination and for making it easier for all of us with service animals. We are sorry the Crockett family had to experience this but we are thankful he fought this battle and prevailed. 

Post your Comments: 

Are you apprehensive when entering a business for the first time with your service animal or when accompanying your spouse with a service animal? Please reply below. 

Photo credits: Crockett family pictures provided by Mr. Jeffrey Crockett

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.

(102) A Special Treat that is Better than a Dog Bone: Introducing Veteran Jeffrey Crockett and His Service Dog, Phineas

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

For those of you who read Miss Molly’s Blogs, you might remember the story about a Veteran, who was denied a hotel room because his service dog accompanied him (see Blog 66). Former Marine, Jeffrey Crockett and the DOJ (Department of Justice) took on the Days Inn Hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and prevailed in a lawsuit against the hotel.

Shortly after I ran the blog, Mr. Crockett contacted me and thanked Miss Molly for running the story, as he felt that getting the word out of the action against the hotel might encourage other Veterans to pursue service dog discrimination.

Mr. Crockett agreed to an interview with Miss Molly to share his story and his journey as a disabled Veteran. There is a lot to share so the blog will be a two-parter.

Meet the Crockett Family

Crockett Family

Our featured Veteran served in two branches of the military. He served in the US Air Force as a Security Forces Police Officer stationed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines from 1987 to 1990. He served in the US Marine Corps as an Avionics Electrician stationed at Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in Havelock, North Carolina from 1996 to 1999.

Jeff and his family of eight live in Texas. His wife Jennifer and he married 17 years ago. His children are Joshua, 14; Gabriel, 12; Michael, 10; Bethany, 7; and Rebekah, 20 months. Who is the eighth member of the family? Phineas, of course–Jeff’s service dog, a six-year old long-haired German Shepherd.

Phineas, service dog

Phineas came into the Crockett family five years ago. Like Miss Molly, Phineas was rescued from the Humane Society. She assists Jeff in balance and maneuvering around obstacles and traversing stairs. He alerts Jeff in advance to panic attacks and stays with him through the attacks to ensure his safety. Phineas wakes Jeff from nightmares, serves as a barrier between him and others in crowded places, forces Jeff to rest when overexerting, and warns him of threats around him. While you might think that this working dog earns his keep with these tasks, Phineas offers our Veteran even more amazing benefits.

Phineas is trained to keep an eye on his children and warn Jeff when they get too far ahead. With five kids, that is an awesome skill. If that isn’t enough, Phineas is being trained to track his children based on scent so he can lead Jeff to his children if he is ever separated from them. Now that is one super dog!

About the Lawsuit 

I asked Jeff how he felt when the Days Inn Hotel denied him and his family access. At the time I asked the question, I did not realize he had so many children. Being turned away with kids compounds the horror of what he suffered. Jeff said that his first reaction was anger, disbelief, and anxiety. He explained the requirements of ADA to the hotel clerk but that did not change the hotel’s position to ban service animals. The hotel sent him and his family away. Jeff shared,

“I was distressed because my family and I were exhausted after a very long and challenging day of travel, and I was concerned that I had no idea where else we would be able to stay if we could not secure a room at this location.”

Having suffered enough through the action of the hotel, I asked Jeff what made him pursue the claim through the DOJ. He commented that the horrific treatment he and his family received at the hands of the hotel was plenty of reason; however, when the hotel employee said the hotel, “had turned away someone else with a service animal earlier that day and they could do the same to him,” he knew he had to do something about it.

Jeff started the process with an internet search to find an organization to help. He found the Oklahoma Disability Law Center in Tulsa, OK. An attorney from the center worked with him and helped him file his complaint with the DOJ.

“I was nervous at first when I was told I would be working with the Department of Justice,” said Jeff. “The attorneys with the DOJ did a great job of easing my fears and doing everything possible to keep me informed of the process of the lawsuit.” He spoke highly of the interaction with the DOJ, commenting they explained things in a way he and his family could understand. “It was a pleasure working with them, and I consider the attorney I worked with to be a family friend.” 

Phineas takes on Goofy

Phineas takes on Goofy

Stay Tuned for Friday’s Blog for Part II 

On Friday, we will hear from Jeff about his feelings with the resolution of the lawsuit. We will also hear about his plans for the future.

Post your Comments: 

Do you have a story you want to share about how you handled discrimination against you and your service animal? Please complete the form below or reply to the blog.

 

Photo credits: Crockett family picture, including Phineas provided by Jeffrey Crockett

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.

(8) Public Access Challenges

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly:

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)


Public Access: Am I violating the rights of others by taking my service dog into public places? 

Businesses often do not know or understand the rights of the disabled and the service dog, which is why the Department of Justice (DOJ) prepared a summary of those rights for us to share. The general public possesses a greater challenge, however, with misconceptions about disabilities and lack of understanding about the requirements of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Molly accompanied us on a brief out-of-state vacation. She slept in the back seat from the start of the ignition until we reached our destination. Whenever we stopped and walked her, she attracted the awe of children and adults with her size and disposition—until we arrived at our out-of-state motel.

Molly sitting on William's lap

How do you stuff this pup under a table?

Eating at the only coffee shop in town, Molly barely fit under the table. We stuffed her tail underneath her body to avoid tripping other guests. Despite our efforts, she did not go unnoticed.

While William paid the bill, I took her to the car. She managed the entire visit without one misdeed. She graced the restaurant as a perfect lady.

When William got to the car, his white, sweaty complexion and slurred words told me something happened in the few minutes it took him to pay the bill. Working through his panic attack, he relayed that a couple in line behind him angered him with their conversation.

“Gee, I’m going to bring my dog to the restaurant next time,” said the man.

“Oh, honey, look. I’m blind. I need to bring my dog.” The man’s wife mocked William in front of other guests by covering her eyes and waiving her hands from side-to-side.

We drove to the corner market to buy him a bottle of water—something that helps his cotton-mouth when having an attack. While in the store, I waited with Molly in the car. A young woman knocked on our car window after spotting Molly in the backseat. She told me her son has a Saint Bernard as a service dog for his seizures. When I shared with her what happened moments earlier in the restaurant, she explained she no longer uses her son’s service dog outside the home for the same reason.

“I got tired with the ridicule and rudeness towards my son for having a dog in public places. After all, you can’t see his disability most of the time.”

In his book, Until Tuesday, Luis Carlos Montalvan tells of a time when a bus driver denied him access in New York because he did not use a service harness—something his disability could not accommodate.

Interestingly, the law does not require a disability to be visible nor that a dog wears a service collar, harness, or any other identifying equipment. When William takes Molly in public, he dresses her in her service vest. Molly’s picture and identification as a trained service dog show clearly so there is no question about her role.

Ignorance and discrimination abound in our world. Even though your disability may not be visible, such as with PTSD or TBI (traumatic brain injury), it is real. Do not let the ridicule of others discourage you from getting the help you need.

Post your Comments:

Do you have a fear of taking your service dog to a restaurant? Please post your comments below.

About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her husband, William, and dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.