For many people, service animals are their key to a life of independence and functionality. They rely on these well trained pets to perform everyday tasks and keep them safe. Unfortunately, to others they are a ticket to special treatment, and a phony vest can be the key to get their dogs in the door of establishments where they would otherwise be banned.
A new proposal on the table in British Columbia is looking to end this nonsense and put an end to fake service animals altogether. Lawmakers are trying to implement the creation of a government-issued identification card and a local registry for the animals and their handlers.
Bill Thornton, CEO of BC and Alberta Guide Dogs, compared the ID cards to a service dog driver’s license. Service dogs are highly trained to perform tasks and handle the extra stimulation in public places. Dogs that do not have this proper training can easily become overwhelmed in these situations and be a danger to the public.
Now that special vests and harnesses are easily available online with no special qualifications needed to purchase them, more and more people are simply buying the equipment and taking their untrained canine along with them on errands, out to lunch, and browsing around public gatherings.
Fake service dogs are typically easy to spot because they usually lack the manners and training of a legitimate service animal. Barking, growling, bumping into people, and other ill behaviors are all tell-tale signs. Right now, no blame can fall on the business owners because it is impossible for them to separate the legitimate service dogs from the fakes.
Likewise, workers of the establishments where the fraudulent service dogs are taken also have a hard time distinguishing which animals are legitimate. It can be very awkward for someone to challenge a person with a service animal because not all disabilities are visible.
For example, many veterans are now using service dogs to help cope with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Under the new proposal, Canadian business owners would be able to inspect someone’s dog tags before allowing them to bring their animal into the establishment.
In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act makes it a federal crime to use a fake service dog. About 25% of the states have passed additional laws that prohibit the misrepresentation of service animals, but privacy protection is also built into the laws, which makes prosecuting offenders very difficult.