Crack Down on Service Dog Fraud in Kentucky
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Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs are defined as "dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities". Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the handler's disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA and do not have public access rights. Because service animals are trained to mitigate a disability of the handler, these dogs can go anywhere the handler can, providing it does not cause safety or health hazards. In addition, many public and private regulations (such as pet fees in housing and airplanes, as well as breed restrictions) are required to be waived. In the United States, service dogs do not need to be identified as such, and businesses can only ask "is this a service dog?" and "what tasks do they do to mitigate a disability?" Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task. [x]
ABUSE OF THE SYSTEM
Because of these loose terms and almost nonexistent regulations, many people in recent years have begun to trick the system by passing their pets off as service animals. [x] The issue with fraud of service dogs is a growing problem in the United States, and extremely problematic in Kentucky. Fraudulent service dogs can pose a danger to the public, as well as numerous problems for legitimate handler-dog teams (i.e. those who are disabled and their trained service animal).
SCAMS & REGISTRY SITES
Currently, there are countless "registry sites" online [x], where people can register their dog to be a service dog. This is not how service dog training works, and in the United States, there is no such thing as an ADA / federal / state service dog registration and actual service dogs are required absolutely no identification. The only license a service animal needs is a dog license in counties which require it for all dogs. With these registries, any person can pay a small fee to get a vest, a badge, and seemingly proper paperwork and their dog becomes a "service dog" – no training needed! People without disabilities are using these sites to avoid the training process, avoid housing fees, avoid breed restrictions, etc. But at what cost?
PROBLEMS ALL AROUND
As I have briefly mentioned above, fake service dogs affect both the public as well as people with disabilities / service dog teams.
Public Threat. Untrained dogs that obtain public access due to these sites (as well as sites like Amazon that provide service dog vests to anyone) pose a direct threat to the general public. These dogs could be docile at home, but could attack citizens or working dogs when they are taken out into public.
Problems for Service Dog Teams. They also create problems for true service dogs and their handlers. For instance, the more the fake handlers provide the "certifications" to businesses, schools, law enforcement officers, etc, the more the general public expects every service dog to have an ID / certification, which, as I mentioned above, is not a legal thing in the US. They could also seriously injure an extremely expensive piece of medical equipment (a trained service dog), were they to attack.
Problems for Airlines & Landlords. Airlines and landlords are missing out on fees that they could otherwise charge for pets because of the fraud. They are also accepting breeds that are not usually covered under low-level (cheaper) insurance, meaning that these frauds can cause lawsuits for landlords and airlines were anything to happen.
Undue Anxiety in Dogs. In addition, temperament is tested in real service dog candidates to determine how they respond to people, public places, etc. Dogs that have not been socialized or who are not used to public places can experience extreme anxiety by being taken out into public, especially for prolonged periods of time, making them more likely to become dangerous, and more likely for them to suffer health problems from stress.
Misuse of Medical Equipment / Less Accessibility for Disabled People. Lastly, those faking service dogs likely do not face the same discrimination, pain, and other symptoms that disabled service dog teams deal with on a daily basis. Service animals are medical equipment that help us (disabled people) live our lives more so than we would have without them. They are accommodations for us to have the world more accessible to us. Fraudulent service dog teams have the privilege of being health / able-bodied AND getting to bring their beloved pet into public – win, win!
STATES ALREADY CRACKING DOWN
Nineteen states – California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington – as of 2016, currently have "Fraudulent Representation of Service Animal" laws [x]. Many of these states declare fraudulent service animals as a petty offense or misdemeanor, with California stating that service dog fraud is "...punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding 6 months, by a fine not exceeding $1,000, or by both fine and imprisonment."
CALL TO ACTION
I am a disabled person considering a service dog; am fed up with the amount of fakes; am friends with people who have had their service dogs attacked by fraudulent dogs; am a student on a campus that trains service dogs, yet people bring their "service dog" (pet) to class with a purchased vest – I truly wish Kentucky was a state that protected my accommodations of as a handler.
I encourage you to follow the nineteen states that already have laws in place and propose a law deeming fraud of a service dog team to be a misdemeanor. Although it would be tricky for the average law enforcement officer to find the fakes, those who have disabilities and legitimate service dogs know their rights and know that certification and identification make not a service dog, and would be more than willing to help officials crack down. Disabled people also know there are currently more pressing matters, but the longer this is allowed, the more people will abuse the system.
Laws that crack down on fakes would be beneficial to landlords, the general public, airlines, many other groups, and – most importantly – the group that service dogs were originally and always meant for: disabled citizens.
Thank you for your time,
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