A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing? Fake Service Animals A Growing Problem.

It’s an easy law to break, and thousands of pet owners do it everyday …

By strapping a vest or a backpack with a “service animal” mark or emblem to their dog, anyone can bring Fido into stores and restaurants where non-service dogs are normally not allowed. This is creating growing problems for both the disabled community and business owners and is leading to calls for better identification of the “real deal”.

This is an example of a patch that can be downloaded off the internet to be sewn onto a dog backpack or vest ... looks pretty convincing, but it pays to look twice!

This is an example of a patch that can be downloaded from the Internet to be sewn onto a dog backpack or vest … looks pretty convincing, but it pays to look twice!

Those with disabilities are worried about privacy and the safety of their highly trained service dogs. Business owners are concerned about health violations and damage to merchandise from impostors abusing the system.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s a federal crime to represent an untrained service animal as a legitimate one. And about 25% of all states have laws against service animal misrepresentation. However, privacy protections built into the laws make it nearly impossible to prosecute offenders. It’s even more difficult because documentation is NOT legally required to prove an animal is an authentic, legitimate  service dog.

Often, people who want to take their pets into restaurants or retail stores just go online to buy vests, backpacks or ID cards with a “service animal” insignia.

The law says those entering businesses with animals can be asked just two questions:

  1. Is this a service dog?
  2. What is it trained to do for you?

Efforts to make the law more prosecutable have begun, but few agree on what will work best. Ideas range from ditching privacy to doing nothing.

So what can business owners do to address the growing concerns? Here is what the law says about service animals and what business owners can and can’t do!

28 CFR Sec. 36.302 Modifications in policies or procedures subsection (c) states:

  1. Generally, a public accommodation shall modify policies, practices and procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability.
  2. A public accommodation may ask an individual with a disability to remove a service animal from the premises if the animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it. Or if the animal is not house broken.
  3. If an animal is properly excluded from the premises, the disabled handler must be given the opportunity to obtain goods, services & accommodations without having the service animal on the premises.
  4. A service animal shall be under the control of the handler at all times. (voice control, signals, or other effective means)
  5. A service animal shall have a harness, leash, or other tether, unless the handler is unable to use harness or leash due to their disability or if the harness or leash would interfere with the service animals safe, effective performance of work or tasks.
  6. A public accommodation is not responsible for the care or supervision of a service animal.
  7. A public accommodation can only ask the two questions mentioned above when determining if an animal qualifies as a service animal.
  8. A public accommodation shall not require documentation, such as proof of certification, training or license.
  9. Access to common areas must be provided to disabled guest and service animal
  10. A public accommodation shall not ask or require a disabled guest a surcharge or pet deposit
  11. A disabled guest can be charged for any and all damage the service animal caused during its stay.

One of the most commonly asked questions that I am asked concerning this growing problem is “What can I do to help identify a fake?” Considering there are only a few questions we can ask about the animal, it can be very difficult.
One small business owner told me “I keep a few bacon snacks near the cash register, and if I am not convinced that the dog is a true service animal, I throw a bacon snack down on the ground near the dog and see if it eats it off the floor. If it does, I politely ask them to remove the animal from my store.”

We all need to be very careful to follow the rules, but at the same time, we all have a responsibility to our disabled customers that do require service animals to protect them from the danger of a non-trained animal threatening them on our properties.

If you have any questions concerning this issue or have found an effective method of identifying fake service animals — a wolf in sheep’s clothing — please let me know so I can post an update to our friends, neighbors and customers.

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