The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service animals as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities”. These dogs are specially trained to cope with daily situations in public and private, whilst improving the lives of their owners in any number of ways.
Claiming that an “ordinary” pet dog is a service animal is service dog fraud. It damages the reputation of trained dogs and can cause immeasurable distress to those with legitimate and life-affecting disabilities if their dogs are treated with hostility or suspicion when out in public.
What is a fake service dog?
More and more frequently, members of the public are falsely claiming that their pet dog is a trained service dog.
There are many reasons for this, such as:
- Avoiding animal transport fees on airlines (service dogs travel for free)
- Not wanting their pet to be caged for an airline flight (service dogs can travel in the aircraft with the passenger)
- Not wanting to risk leaving a dog tied up outside a shop when they enter it
- A dislike of being apart from their pet for long periods of time, for example when at work or attending leisure activities
Service dog fraud is simple. There are many websites on the internet that sell fake service dog waistcoats and vests that you can put on your dog that wrongly inform members of the public that you have a service dog. For those who fancy creating a deeper deception, fake certification documents can be purchased online for around as $150. back link check As there is no legally-recognized certification for training dogs, these literally aren’t worth the paper they are printed on, but can be good methods of convincing unsuspecting people of your dog’s legitimacy.
The risks of a fake service dog
Passing a pet off as a service dog can have dangerous consequences. “Real” service dogs are specially trained over a number of years to ensure they are comfortable dealing with everyday situations such as being in crowds, traveling on different forms of transport, crossing roads and interacting with other dogs.
The average pet dog does not have the luxury of this in-depth training and can become stressed and frightened when placed in an unfamiliar setting. There have been reports of fake service dogs attacking other dogs, and in some cases becoming aggressive towards and biting people.
However, even a well-trained pet can cause difficulties, especially to those who are legitimately travelling with a service dogs. Legitimate service dogs are exceptionally well trained, but you have to remember that they are still animals, with minds of their own – and therefore not immune to the efforts of another dog trying to get their attention.
Having another animal distract their dog can be extremely upsetting for a service dog owner, particularly those who rely on their dog for sensory abilities (e.g. people with hearing/visual impairments), or for people who might struggle to contain the situation, for example due to autism.
Service dog fraud can damage the public perception of legitimate service dogs and cause their owners to be treated with mistrust. If a store owner has had a bad experience with a fake service dog misbehaving in their store, you can understand their suspicion if another apparent service dog enters their store. People with “hidden” disabilities (e.g. epilepsy) are affected most by this as unfortunately people often make assumptions about a person’s disability based purely on what they can see.
What can be done about it?
Sadly, pretending a dog is a service animal is a not a crime. In fact, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) states that dog owners should be taken at their word if they claim their pet is a service dog. You aren’t allowed to demand proof that the pet is registered.
As service dogs can be any number of breeds and sizes, it can be difficult to know for certain if the one you are looking at is a fake. Registered service dogs are not legally required to wear vests or jackets identifying their status. No universally accepted legal certification documents exist to “prove” someone’s claims.
This can make it difficult to prevent the rise of service dog fraud.
The best method of prevention is awareness. Often, people do not realize the harm they may cause by their pretense, both in terms of their dog behaving unpredictably in a strange situations but also helping perpetrate myths that service dogs are ill-behaved and disruptive.
If you find out someone you know is falsely claiming to have a service dog, gently let them know why they shouldn’t be doing this. Perhaps point them to this article so that they can understand the potential consequences of their actions. Try not to get defensive or aggressive; educate them and hopefully they will see that their actions are irresponsible, selfish and should be stopped right away.