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Home > Dogs and the Law, Florida Animal Law, Working Dogs > The Problem with Fake Service Dogs

The Problem with Fake Service Dogs

August 17th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments
Fake Service Dog ID

Fake Service Dog IDs are Easy to Come By

Recently, as my husband and I were waiting to board a plane from Atlanta to Tampa, we noticed a young woman walking around at the same gate.  With one hand, she held a cell phone to her ear.  With the other, she held a canvas bag.

Hanging limply in the crook of the woman’s cell phone arm was a tiny Chihuahua with a pink, rhinestone-studded collar around its neck.

We watched the woman for fifteen or twenty minutes as she walked back and forth carrying on her never ending phone conversation, all the while clutching that sad looking little dog, its back paws dangling as she gripped it by its stomach in the crook of her arm.

Finally, my cynical husband echoed my own thoughts as he remarked, “Just watch.  She’s going to claim that is a service dog so she can take it on the plane.”

Sure enough, as she boarded the plane, the woman flashed some sort of laminated card and, without further inquiry, she went to her seat.  By then, the little Chihuahua was stuffed into the canvas bag.  Cell Phone Lady was still on the cell phone.

Phony Service Dog IDs

Of course, I cannot say for certain that the woman I saw was not disabled.  Many disabilities are not readily observable to strangers.  And I can’t say for sure that the sad looking little Chihuahua hanging there like a rag doll was not a service dog, trained to help the woman with whatever disability she suffered from.

But, given the look of the entire scenario, it did raise my suspicions, particularly as the dog had more of an appearance of an unwilling and not very well-cared-for accessory than an animal trained to assist someone with a disability.

And there have been a number of disturbing stories in the news recently about nondisabled dog owners trying to pass off their pets as service animals in order to gain access with their dogs to restaurants, stores, restricted housing, public transportation, and other areas where dogs would not otherwise be permitted.

Fake Service Dog IDs are Easy to Obtain

Fake service dog vests, ID cards, certificates, and other indicia of legitimacy are readily available for sale on the internet for anyone who wants to spend a little money.  The problem is, these fake service dogs and their owners are doing a disservice to people with real disabilities who use trained animals for legitimate assistance.

On top of just plain fraudulent behavior, these phony service dog handlers:

  • Often fail to properly clean up after their animals;
  • Frequently bring animals that are poorly trained or badly behaved into establishments; and
  • As a result, give legitimate service dog handlers a bad name.

Florida’s Definition of a Service Animal

Under Florida Statute § 413.08, a “service animal” is defined as “an animal that is trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability.”  This broad definition includes animals (not necessarily just dogs) that are trained to perform such tasks as:

  • Guiding a visually impaired or blind person
  • Alerting someone who is deaf or hard of hearing
  • Assisting someone in a wheelchair
  • Assisting with mobility or balance
  • Alerting and protecting someone with seizures
  • Retrieving objects
  • Performing other tasks as needed

Florida law specifically provides that a service animal “is not a pet.”

Florida Law:  Penalties for False Service Dog Credentials?

Service Dogs are Trained

True Service Dogs are Trained to Help Their Disabled Owners

Florida law provides that a person accompanied by a service dog does not have to provide documentation that the dog is trained as a service dog.  An establishment may, however, ask if the animal is a service animal, and may ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform in order to determine whether the animal is really a service animal or just a pet.

And the establishment may exclude or remove an animal from the premises, even if it really is a service animal, “if the animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others.”

Although there are criminal penalties for people and companies who deny or interfere with the accommodation of a disabled person accompanied by a service animal, Florida law does not appear to provide any penalty for persons who fraudulently seek accommodation through the use of an animal falsely identified as a service animal.

How to Spot a Phony Service Dog

Wayne K. Roustan in the Sun Sentinel reports that the best way to determine whether a dog is a legitimate service dog is to observe its behavior.  Real service dogs:

  • Do not appear restless
  • Do not jump or bark
  • Will obey the disabled owner’s commands
  • Will perform tasks
  • Will lie down passively when instructed

It is a disgrace that any nondisabled dog owner would try to gain an undeserved accommodation for their pet by passing it off as a service animal.  Real service animals perform valuable tasks for their disabled owners, and several years of often very expensive training can go into making a dog a true service dog.

Nevertheless, as long as sellers are willing to sell, and owners are willing to buy, phony “credentials” for pets, all with apparent impunity, the practice of unscrupulous pet owners passing their pets off as service animals will continue.

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    I have an emotional support dog for my extreme fear of flight. she is well behave and it just drives me crazy when people pretend they have a disability. And she also helps me around Christmas time with ( yes, I actually am afraid of this) poinsettias. I will freak out if I touch one. She calms me down.

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  18. AMHG
    January 20th, 2016 at 13:11 | #18

    It is actually distressing to me that a PSYCHIATRIST PRESCRIBED emotional support dog does not meet ADA requirements for “service animal”. I will be getting an emotional support dog soon, but also plan on carrying the letter from my doctor with me as supporting documentation…. a simple laminated card does not cut it… it is too easy to get one!

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    As a person with a disability and a real service dog, I run into the fakers sometimes, and it’s very irritating. It’s a tricky issue to solve, though. There are even companies that will give just about anybody a doctor’s letter. But if they try to pass more regulations, it could hurt people like myself who train our own service dogs. Not all dogs come from a program.

    Personally I think the best solution would be for airplanes and other places to become more pet friendly. No one wants to put their dog in the cargo hold on an airplane and risk their life. There need to be alternatives. If people can transport their animal safely, they will be less likely to lie about them being service dogs or emotional support dogs.
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  21. ShoshanaB
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    I travel all over the country and have never encountered a fake service dog. As far as the young woman boarding the plane with a chihuahua, you are very ignorant if you think a chihuahua can’t be a service dog. That little chihuahua was probably the reason that the young woman did not rip off your head and sh*t down your neck, sir. That’s what my little chihuahua service dog does for me. He has given my life back to me and he is with me 24/7. Without him I would be in prison, or dead. Unfortunately I do encounter ignoramuses who think we should wear placards announcing our disabilities, I keep those dummies in my prayers.

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    Florida law does provide for falsely claiming a dog as a service animal. As of July 1 2016….Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill stating that If convicted of the 2nd degree misdemeanor the penalty is 60 days in jail, up to $500 fine and 30 hours community service for an organization that serves the disabled…..bring on those false plastic certificates.

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    Hi I don’t know why this information isn’t Aut there or people just aren’t looking but there is no ID or laminated card that says My dog is a service dog and all of those people with their fake IDs paid money from a website or just made one The law states that no fee shall be collected to register a service dog and it says that in the event that state or local laws require service dogs to be registered but where I live and most places that I’ve read have no such registration requirements The bottom line is nobody hates somebody who has a fake service animal more than me because I’m the one who has to deal with the repercussions the ADA Protects me and my service dog if you want to know if someone has a fake service dog oh you are permitted to do by law is ask if it is a service dog that’s if you are employed at a place the service dog is entering if you are a bystander you have no right to ask anything but because you also have civil rights that gives you the right to be a dick whose job is it to find out which service dogs are fake and which service dogs are real? A judge and only a judge not a police officer or a cashier or a bystander has the right to violate a service dog and it’s handlers civil rights for example how would you feel if a service dog owner walked up to you and told you to not talk for the rest of the week or told you to shut the fuck up because that is the same thing as walking up to me asking me questions and making allegations that my dog isn’t a real service dog and I have to show you proof because according to the law the only person that I need to show proof to is a judge but to simplify this The law allows store owners and employees to make a service dog and its owner leave if the dog is not well behaved not housebroken and or is causing damage so that is the only way A store owner can react according to the law the law does not state that if the dog is misbehaved that means it’s not a real service dog because my dog is a Highly Trainined and Well. Behaved dog With that said dogs are not perfect my dog can have an off day just like anybody else and when he does I handle the situation just as any handler would

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