Service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and are allowed entry into all establishments regardless of “no pet” policies. These animals are highly trained to assist their disabled handlers, but their special status could be in jeopardy.
Fraudulent service dog vests, tags, patches, and certificates are threatening a system that’s designed to help those in need of service dogs. It’s understandable to want to stay with a pet, but there are compelling reasons someone shouldn’t fake having a service animal.
Every day, our culture is becoming more and more pet-centric, but there are still places that exclude pets. Illegitimate service animals become unfortunate representations when they misbehave (e.g., barking, making messes, jumping on others). Real trained service animals, in turn, suffer the consequences.
The Fine Lines
The ADA stipulates that all public places provide access to service dogs and their owners. Businesses or organizations are allowed to ask if the dog is required due to a disability and what tasks the animal can perform. It’s against the law to ask about the nature of person’s disability or to request documentation, which is partially why it’s so easy to fake having a service animal.
To further understand why one shouldn’t fake having a service animal, take a look at the following categories of animals that can accompany their owners/handlers and provide assistance:
- Emotional support animals (ESAs) ‒ They provide emotional support and comfort to those with a documented mental health condition, but they’re not covered under the ADA.
- Therapy animals ‒ Evaluated and registered through a therapy animal organization, these animals do not have extra rights under the ADA. Dogs that visit hospitals, schools, or libraries are typically therapy animals.
- Service animals ‒ These animals are connected to people who can’t perform certain tasks without them, such as the visually or hearing impaired, those in wheelchairs, etc. They receive 2 years of intensive training (cost upwards of $40k!), and the wait time for one is over two years. Service animals are not legally required to wear identifying vests.
Do Not Fake Having a Service Animal
In Massachusetts, you might have to pay $500 if you fake having a service animal; in California, the fine is $1000 and up to 6 months behind bars! Twelve states, such as Virginia and Colorado, currently have laws criminalizing fake service animals.
When people fake having a service animal, it’s for various reasons. Some just want to be able to bring their dog with them wherever they go, such as to bars, hotels, and restaurants. However, protecting the rights of disabled individuals who actually depend on service animals is the right choice.