The Problem with Fake Service Animals

fake service animalsModern pets enjoy lives their ancestors would hardly recognize. Not only do we provide them with the best in nutrition and medical care, we also have a respect for animals that has grown considerably in recent decades. Studies show that most pet owners now consider their four-legged companions family members.

Indeed, pets are wonderful additions to our homes and families. But what happens when the desire to include our fur babies in every aspect of our daily lives leads to problems?

It’s easy to purchase a service animal vest online and hop on a plane or walk into a restaurant with your pet these days. Unfortunately, the rise in these fake service animals has significant costs to those who truly depend upon an animal for their independence and, in many cases, their lives.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

Legislated in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that state and local government agencies, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that provide goods and services to the public make reasonable modifications in order to accommodate individuals with disabilities. This includes allowing service animals into facilities with a “no pets” policy.

A service animal, as defined by the ADA, is one that is trained to do work or perform specific tasks for an individual with a disability. Therapy and emotional support animals (pets that provide comfort by simply being there) are not considered service dogs under the ADA.

The Problem with Fake Service Animals

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act defines what a service animal is and isn’t, it doesn’t state any requirements or provisions for training, registration, licensing, or documentation of service animals. A loophole in the ADA also prohibits businesses or individuals from asking a pet owner for proof that their animal is a service animal.

The loophole, which was put in place to respect the privacy of disabled individuals, also presents several problems, including:

  • Fake service animals in public places can be disruptive, as they are typically not trained as real service animals.
  • Fake service animals can pose a risk of distraction or injury to real service animals.
  • A distracted service animal can inadvertently cause harm to their handler by not being able to perform their trained functions properly.
  • The damage and disruption caused by fake service animals has led businesses to put pressure on legislators to change ADA rules, which could have negative impacts on disabled individuals.
  • The rise in fake service animals in recent years has caused individuals with real service animals to fall under suspicion.

Times, They Are a-Changin’

Incidents in which a service dog or handler has been harmed due to a fake service animal have inspired legislation in 19 states. The most recent states to pass laws against people trying to pass their pets off as service animals are Virginia (2016) and Colorado (2017). Massachusetts is currently considering a similar law.

The Bottom Line

Service animal handlers have difficulty functioning in their daily lives without their four-legged companion. Fake service animals diminish and undermine the daily challenges faced by people with disabilities, as well as the hard work and dedication it takes to lead an independent life in the face of a disability.

Would you like to learn more? The team at West Park Animal Hospital welcomes your questions about service animals!