(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.

(93) Service Dog for a Day

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 service organizations often encourage employees to go without eye sight for a day or use a wheelchair to see the world from the perspective of individuals with unique challenges. I am told the experience not only heightens the sensitivity of the employee to those he/she serves but it also helps the employee understand the barriers that individuals with disabilities must overcome to do things others take for granted.

I wondered what it would be like to be a service dog the size of Molly. Of course, I can only imagine her life. At the risk of giving her human characteristics, I will attempt to get into her head.

Early Morning at Sunrise

Stimulus: Birds singing, sunshine streaming through slats in bedroom blinds.
Response: Eat bird food. Oops, gotta go. Wake up alpha male human (alpha male). Gotta go.

Stimulus: Clock shows 6 am. Pillow thrown in the air by alpha male.
Response: Alpha male scent. Nice pillow. Take nap. Oops, still gotta go.

Stimulus: Door opens; alpha female human (alpha mom) unhooks Molly from outdoor leash.
Response: Stampede; slip and slide to get to food bowl. Food, food, food. Sniff. Cereal again. Nobody loves me.

Stimulus: Alpha mom bangs pots in kitchen; bacon cooks; she pets Molly with something in hand.
Response: Sniff. Food, food, food. Yum. So good to be loved.

Veterinarian Appointment

Stimulus: Alpha male enters pet store with Molly on leash; little yapping dogs surround Molly; people stare at her, telling alpha male things that make him smile
Response: Eat little dogs; eat little dogs; yanks on leash; Let me at ‘em. Chock

Stimulus: Receptionist coos and shuffles paper.
Response: Sniff, sniff. Nice Ashley. Pet me.

Stimulus: Alpha male yanks leash. Molly steps on scale. Ashley and alpha male clap. Alpha momMolly on scale flashes camera in Molly’s face and pats Molly’s head.
Response: Wag tail vigorously. Small dog yelps. Sorry, pal. Stay clear of tail next time. Another flash. Just great, alpha mom will blog and tell everyone my weight. Hides face under paws. Embarrassing.

Stimulus: Harsh voice from alpha male of small yelping dog. Molly’s alpha male sweats, smacks lips, and drinks water.
Response: High alert. Alpha male needs me. Pushes against alpha male. Brace for impact.

Stimulus: Alpha male stumbles, grabbing Molly. “Good Molly.” Alpha male rubs Molly’s head.
Response: Protect alpha male.

Lunch at Fast Food Restaurant

Molly stuffed under tableStimulus: “Under.” Alpha male shouts three times, yanking on Molly’s leash.
Response: I get it. Wait, you want me under the table? Dirty. Sniff. Food, food. Squeeze. I can do this if I let my butt hang out. Alpha male will protect me.

Stimulus: French fry drops on Molly’s head. Alpha male pats Molly’s head.
Response: Eat. No eat. Working girl. Protect alpha male.

Stimulus: Kids run to Molly.
Response: High alert. Pet me. High alert. Protect alpha male. Please, can I lick them? Protect alpha male.

Back Home in Evening

Stimulus: Alpha mom in kitchen, banging pots.
Response: Sniff. Oops, gotta go.

Stimulus: Alpha male is taking nap; more banging of pots in kitchen.
Response: Protect alpha male. Sniff. Alpha male smells. Sleep here. Protect alpha male.

Stimulus: Fragrance of roasted onion, mushroom, and garlic tickles nose of alpha male. Alpha male gets up from nap.
Response: Alpha male needs me. Brace for impact. Sniff. Food, food. Cereal again. Nobody loves me.Molly sleeping on back with legs extended

Stimulus: Alpha male pours broth over Molly’s food. He hugs Molly.
Response: Food. Good food. Good to be queen. So tired. Worked all day. Need sleep. Snores on back with legs in air.

Final Word

Just as with people, dogs can become physically ill from stress. (Ensminger, 106)

A service dog’s work provides life, strength, and hope to disabled Veterans and others with special needs. The work exhausts the animal as much as coping with a disability exhausts the Veteran. Remember to give your service animal time off to be just a dog and relax without commands. Emotionally, the service animal often carries the burden of stress for a Veteran with PTSD. An extra treat may be in order at the end of a long day.

Post your Comments:

If your service dog or pets could talk to you, what would they tell you? Please comment below.

Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

Source cited:

  • Ensminger, John J. Service and Therapy Dogs in American Society: Science, Law and the Evolution of Canine Caregivers. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 2010.

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 grandchildren.