New Service Dog Bill Aims to Stop Fake Service Animals

Service Dog

Effective August 1, owners presenting fake service dogs will be breaking the law.

It’s a great feeling to have your faithful pup with you at all times, but there’s a huge difference in enjoying companionship and depending on a service dog to accomplish day-to-day tasks. A new bill aims to define this difference and curb the growing number “fake service animals”* in public spaces.

Effective this August, House Bill 2588 will make it illegal to misrepresent an animal not specifically trained to assist their owners mitigate a disability (or in other words, a pet) as a service dog in the state of Arizona. Those found in violation could face fines upwards $250.

Arizona will join the more than 19 states that already have fake service dog laws in place.

The misrepresentation of service animals under the guise of therapy or emotionally support animals has grown exponentially in the past few years, especially apparent in air travel: small dogs in plane cabins not confined to their carriers; video of a ‘service’ peacock accompanying its owner at the gate.

And while some of these stories seem more silly than serious, there is a real risk to assuming pets (no matter how much “emotional support” they give their owners) can behave in these situations. Risks that can affect other people, that pet, and the overall ability of real service dogs who do real work.

The side the public does not hear about as much: A trained service dog being attacked by an untrained dog inside a hospital; an young woman with autism being denied a cab ride with her service dog due to the driver’s skepticism from past experiences with fake service dogs; businesses enforcing overreaching bans on dogs, including real service dogs, since it’s become increasingly difficult for employees to vet the real from the fakes (along with strict and necessary laws about what you can and cannot ask a person with a service dog).

The goal of HB 2588 is to not only rid public places of disruptive and untrained pets being masqueraded as service animals, but to protect the laws and rights that real service pets and their handlers deserve.

“HB 2588 does not change the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),”said  Senator John Kavanagh (R), who sponsored the bill. “House Bill 2588 does make it illegal in Arizona to pass off your pet as a service animal, and the civil violation carries a fine of up to $250.”

He added his hope is that “honest people will not break the law.”

Opponents of the bill voiced concerns that it could cause people disabilities who use service animals to be more aggressively questioned by business owners.

Under federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) law, business employees are only allowed to ask if a service animal is required because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform (but may not ask to demonstrate the task). This law will not be affected by HB 2588.

Tumi and Todd House, founders of Valley-based Paws 4 Life, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides affordable service dog training to the East Valley, has seen the negative effect fake service dogs have on business’ attitudes towards real service dogs.

“Too many graduate teams have been denied services, transportation and access to public places because of bad behavior by other (non-service) dogs,” said Tumi, who helped craft the bill.

This is especially true for service dogs that don’t fit the typical service dog stereotype of a Lab, German Shepard or Golden Retriever. Paws 4 Life trains any breed of dog with the aptitude to become a service animal. So, while their graduates are highly disciplined and qualified, not all have the traditional service dog appearance, which can cause skeptics.

So, how can a business spot real service dogs from the imposters? The dog’s behavior is the best indicator. 

Service animals are trained to do their work and stay out of the way. They will not bark (unless part of its task), beg for food, pull on their leash or become distracted by other people or animals.

It’s also important to know that per the ADA, any animal, trained service dog or otherwise, can legally be asked to leave an establishment if the dog:

  • Growls or shows signs of aggression towards other people or other animals,
  • Relieves itself in the facility
  • Barks outside of its trained duties
  • Eats off floor or tables
  • Approaches other people or animals
  • Displays other disruptive behavior

READ HOUSE BILL 2588 HERE.

 

*this article uses “fake service dog” in reference to any dog that is not trained, licensed or otherwise, to perform specific and necessary tasks for people with disabilities

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