Is it Real?
My grandmother witnessed it yet again: a lady slipping a service animal vest onto her little pooch before walking through the doors of a craft fair exhibition that had a “No Pets Allowed” policy. The dog’s occasional barking disturbed and distracted other vendors at the fair. Some customers even left the fair because they could not tolerate their merchandise having animal fur all over it. This, of course, decreased my grandmother’s sales for that evening. Everyone knew the lady had a certificate stating her dog was a qualified service animal. Nowadays, the number of fraudulent service and support animals seems to have been increasing in the past several years. This is due to illegal service animal vests and certifications that are being sold online for a price just less than $150. With the increase in counterfeit service animals, there is also an increase in complaints and doubts from businesses and their customers. Pets that wear an animal service vest or ID are now constantly being questioned because of the abundance of fake service animals. People who are cynophobic (fear of dogs) or allergic to fur are highly affected by these animals, and minimizing the presence of animals in small public areas such as restaurants are vital. The rising question is, “What should we do?”
Service animals, under the American Disabilities Act (ADA), are trained dogs or horses that perform tasks that ultimately aid a person with a disability (“Service Animals”). Such disabilities include blindness, ADHD, asthma, autism, or other psychological or mental disorders. Service animals could do tasks that include pressing an emergency dial button if the handler experiences a heart attack, reminding the handler to take his/her medications, or assisting the handler physically by guiding them or steadying him when he stands up. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, need to be prescribed by a legal doctor or mental health professional in order to receive that title. Emotional support animals simply provide comfort for their owner. Emotional support animals do not need to be trained. Nonetheless, emotional support animals may provide to people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, social phobias, and bipolar disorders.
People who need service animals have the benefit of being allowed to go into public areas where pets and other animals are not typically allowed such as restaurants, buses, airplanes, stores, and in homes with pet restrictions, all without extra restrictions or payments. People without disabilities in need of service animals see this advantage and purchase illegal vests and/or certificates stating that their dog is trained for special tasks. Another minus to this is that it is illegal for business owners and employees (and any person for that matter) to ask to show documentation of the legality of their service animal, and are only allowed to ask two questions if it is uncertain whether the animal is a service animal or not (“Service Animals”):
- Is this a service animal?
- What service has this animal been trained to provide?
People with fraudulent service animals are already lying by allowing their pet to pose as a fake, so what would prompt these owners to tell the truth when asked these questions?
During this past December/January, news broke out of a turkey riding in a passenger seat of an airplane (Cutler). The turkey was riding as an emotional support animal. Questions arose about fraudulent service and emotional support animals. Any animal can be considered an emotional support animal, as long as a legal doctor prescribes it to them. Animals boarding the airplane as an emotional support animal or service animal are, required by the United States Department of Transportation and Air Carrier Access Act, to be accommodated next to the disabled individual in a way that does not obstruct emergency evacuations (14- Aeronautics and Space). Animals traveling as a service or support animal can travel with their handler free of charge. These animals, if small enough, may sit on the handler’s lap or under their seat. Large animals are required to be checked and travel in a kennel, but can be seated as a passenger. The question, “to what extent is an emotional support animal needed” still persists. How easy is it to say “I need emotional support” and the doctor simply prescribes an emotional support animal?
The presence of employees and other shoppers petting animals wearing vests in grocery stores prompted Leilani Garfield, a Utah resident, to speak out to Utah County Board of Health (Penrod). Her son has fur allergies that causes him to have an asthma attack and trouble breathing. The Garfield family does not mind legitimate service animals, but the growing number of service animals, be they illegal, is a serious issue for families like the Garfield’s. "For every fraudulent service animal that is just a glorified pet in a vest that comes into a store or a restaurant and misbehaves, it makes it that much harder for a legitimate user of a service animal to have credibility when they bring their dog in,” says Aaron Kinikini, the legal director of the Utah Disability Law Center. The Utah County Board of Health sent a reminder letter to restaurants in the county on what is and is not allowed in regards to a those who claim they have a service animal. Handlers and their “service animal” may be asked to leave if the animal is misbehaving.
Some states have attempted to implement a new law to solve this issue of counterfeit service animals. For example, in 2015, Arizona legislature proposed an anti-service dog policy for restaurants (Montini). Restaurants in the state or Arizona would be allowed to reject the entrance of service animals into their restaurant. This new law did not pass, however, because of the ruckus of disapproval from Arizona residents who did in fact, have legal service dogs. Some attempts to solve the issue have been successful. For example, Colorado is currently waiting for Senate approval of a bill that would charge owners of fraudulent service animals $33 plus an increasing surcharge for each offense (Hernandez). A new Michigan law will also update service animal rules and give veterans and others with disabilities the option to register for a state ID and a patch that can be sewn onto their animals’ vest to differentiate them from fraudulent service animals (Egger). Luckily, lawmakers in Maine, Virginia, Hawaii, and New York are currently discussing bills that would penalize $1000 to violators who mask their pets as service or emotional support animals. Fraudulent service animals are evident everywhere; why are these states acting on the problem, but others are not? More steps to penalize owners of counterfeit service and emotional support animals need to be taken by all state legislatures.
When people purchase phony service or emotional support animal identification makers, they are hoaxing not only the public, but to people with disabilities who truly need the assistance of service and emotional support animals. The identity of legitimate service and emotional support animals are constantly being questioned because of the selfish acts of purchasing the illegal vests, IDs, and certificates. The health of people who have allergic reactions around animals with fur are also jeopardized. Violators need to be punished and state officials need to take effort to stop this nonsense.
Cutler, Grace E. "Flying Turkey Ruffles Feathers about 'emotional Support' Animals on Planes | Fox News." Fox News. FOX News Network, 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2016. <http://www.foxnews.com/travel/2016/01/14/turkey-ruffles-feathers-about-emotional-support-animals-on-flights.html>.
Egger, David. "New Service Animal Law Includes Voluntary State ID, Patch."Washington Times. The Washington Times, 13 Jan. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2016. <http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jan/13/new-service-animal-law-includes-voluntary-state-id/>.
Hernandez, Elizabeth. "Fake Service Animals Would Be Criminalized under a Bill That Just Passed the Colorado House." The Denver Post. The Denver Post, 30 Mar. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2016. < >.
Montini, EJ. "Bill Would Have Let Restaurants Ban Service Animals." Azcentral. Azcentral, The Arizona Republic, 20 Feb. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016. <http://www.azcentral.com/story/ejmontini/2015/02/19/american-with-disabilities-act-arizona-legislature-hb-2179-daily-show/23674919/>.
Penrod, Sam. "Fake Service Animals a Growing Problem | KSL.com." Fake Service Animals a Growing Problem | KSL.com. KSL.com, 29 Mar. 2016. Web. 19 Apr. 2016. <https://www.ksl.com/?sid=39103033&nid=148>.
"Service Animals." Revised ADA Requirements. U.S. Department of Justice, July 2011. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. <http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm>.
14- Aeronautics and Space, § II- Office of the Secretary, Department of Transportation-382 (U.S. Department of Transportation 2003). Web. 19 Apr. 2016. <http://airconsumer.dot.gov/rules/382short.pdf>.