Service Dog Imposters? Yep, It’s Happening

Just when you think there can’t possibly be any other way that systems set in place for people living with disabilities can be abused… well, you read this from the Associated Press.

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.

So, in a nutshell, here’s what’s happening. People who do not need service animals but want their dog to be able to come to brunch or furniture shopping with them are buying service animal vests and IDs online. Gross, huh?

For people living with disabilities who use service dogs, this practice (obviously) causes a lot of problems. First, it puts real service animals and their owners at risk. In a confined space such as  restaurant or store, the imposter service animals can get aggressive and rowdy – something a true service animal would not do. If they attack, the service animal will look to its owner for cues on what to do next – causing injury to the service animal and possibly even the owner.

A second more prevalent problem this causes for people who use legitimate service animals is privacy. According to current law, there are only two questions a business owner can ask someone using a service animal before they enter their establishment: 1) Is this a service animal? and 2) What is it trained to do for you? This is done for privacy reasons. As people continue to abuse the system, business owners are becoming more wary of people claiming their dog is a service animal. The fakes can cause damage to their stores, violate health codes and even injury customers. The result? People with disabilities — especially those with invisible disabilities — who use service animals are treated with skepticism. And that creates another problem: to distinguish the real from the fake, privacy would likely be impacted in some way. So now what?

If you think this story sounds familiar, you’re right – think Disney World. No one is quite sure what will happen next — or if anything will happen at all. We’ll keep a close eye on it and update you as more becomes available.

We want to hear from you. Have you ever seen someone using a “service dog” that was CLEARLY not a service dog? Have you faced any skepticism from business owners when bringing your legitimate service dog into their establishments?

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