(170) Service Dog Frauds

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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.