Service Dog Law May Be Exploited Due To Loopholes

Service DogWhen you see a dog wearing a bright vest that says “Service Dog”, it doesn’t always necessarily mean the dog is a certified service animal.

These service vests cost about $30 and can be easily purchased online. People can also buy patches that say “Medical Alert Service Dog” or “Hearing Alert Service Dog.”

Pam Albertson, a San Diego resident who owns a service dog named Cameo, said people that pretend to have service dogs don’t realize the damage that they are causing.

Kathy Maxfield, another disabled service dog owner, said she knows pet owners who put a vest on their dog, so they can simply take their dog with them anywhere. She said “it’s just pure wrong.” She added it makes it tough on people who have true disabilities and rely on trained service dogs.

Cracking down on people who pretend to have service dogs is almost impossible to stop. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects those who use service dogs from being harassed when they take their animals to public places.

It is against the law for a store owner to ask a person with a service dog what kind of disabilities he has. It also is against the law to ask for proof that the animal is a trained service dog. A service dog does not need to wear a vest or have professional training.

The only questions a business owner can ask is if the animal is a service animal and what tasks it can do.

Albertson has photo ID for Cameo, her service dog, when she is at work. In California, using a fake service dog is a misdemeanor, punishable by at least six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. But this is incredibly difficult to enforce.

Due to the privacy protections, it is uncertain how many dogs are not truly service dogs. Organizations that train service dogs, service dogs owners and officials at the San Diego County Department of Animal Services all said it is a growing problem.

“Like anything else, people take advantage,” said Carol Davis of Paws’itive Teams, which trains service dogs in San Diego. “There are dog owners who love their dogs and want them to go everywhere with them.”

Dawn Danielson, director of the county Department of Animal Services, thinks that some of the pet owners who get assistance tags for their dogs are taking advantage of the safeguards that protect those with disabilities from uncomfortable questions.

The ADA prevents employees from asking if the person seeking the tag has a disability or if the dog has any specific training.

“We can’t say, ‘Hey, that poodle doesn’t look like it can do all that much,’ ” she said. “Our hands are tied.”

In 2000, 82 tags were issued. In 2006, that number increased to 265.

Companies that sell service dog vests online also cannot question people when they buy vests. Customers simply abide by the honor code.

Some people may also believe they have a valid reason to bring their pets with them to public places to provide emotional support. Some doctors sign notes that say the dog plays an important role to the patient’s well being.

But some service dog trainers question this and argue the dogs aren’t specifically trained to do anything.

Davis said these dogs haven’t gone through the extensive training required of a working service dog. If the dog behaves poorly, it leaves a bad public perception of service dogs. Business owners can ask a person with any dog, even legitimate service dogs, to leave if the animal is acting up.

A service’s dog accreditation isn’t mandated by any government agency. A person can self-train their dog, even if the owner may not have the expertise or proper background to train dogs.

Determining the legitimacy of service dogs is even more complicated by conflicts over emotional support dogs. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, emotional support dogs are not trained service dogs.

The U.S. Department of Transportation ruled in 2003 that animals that provide emotional support are allowed on airline flights. Also some courts have ruled that people with emotional support animals can’t be denied apartments that prohibit pets.

The Coalition of Assistance Dog Organizations is lobbying the federal government to change the Americans With Disabilities Act’s definition of a service animal. To qualify, an animal would have to be trained to mitigate a person’s disability, according to the definition sought by the coalition. That definition states that an animal providing “comfort” would not qualify.

Finding a solution will be difficult because everyone agrees that people with disabilities shouldn’t have to answer demeaning and challenging questions, said Corey Hudson, director of Canine Companions for Independence.

Source: SignonSanDiego

60 Responses to “Service Dog Law May Be Exploited Due To Loopholes”

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  1. EEdwin says:

    In my opinion, service dogs should be licensed through the county or the city. I wouldn’t call for “testing” of the dog or any such thing, but for the owner to simply sign a form swearing that the animal was trained for service.

    There could be a minimal processing fee (say $10 a year) and it could stand in for the regular pet license, which any owner would be required to obtain anyway.

    The service dog license would have to be worn on collar or harness in public, along with the rabies tag, and would be an easily identifiable color. If there were complaints about the animal’s behavior in public places, or if there was a recorded incident of aggression or some such thing, the animal could then lose its service license.

  2. Juan Chapel says:

    I agree that using ADA law simply to be able to take your animal wherever you go is wrong and all support animals should be well trained for public access but minmizing the importance of an emotional support animal is just wrong. Doing so is nothing less than another form of discrimination toward people with mental health disabilities. An emotional support animal can be an important element to a person’s mental health treatment plan and can help someone cope with challenges they face with illnesses like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia. Because of my support animal I am able to go back to work and I am no longer on a disablity pension. My animal was prescibed by my pychriatrist because after getting her as a pet because he saw significant improvement in my illness to the point where it is now in remission. She helps me by keeping me on a healthy schedule and forces me to excercise regularly. I never forget to take my medication since I time them with her feedings. While not specifically trained for a task she has the natual ability to alert me that I am entering an symptomatic episode. She acts up when I’m not in a calm assertive state. I take my support animal with me wherever I go so that I’m aware when I may be becoming symptomatic. Awareness is important be cause if I know whats going on I can compensate and work myself though the episode. ADA that it excludes emotional support animals denies those of us with mental health disabilities. ADA should be strenthened to include people with all disablities. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Staying healthy is not posible if we don’t maintain a healthy body and mind.

  3. lee says:

    You dont need a dog to tell you that its time to take your meds, use a wrist watch with an alarm and it wont have fleas. I understand Juan that your animal makes you feel better but why should that be an excuse to make it legal. Some would argue that drugs make them feel better and make them more happy so should that make them legal. Please not in this life time. You should be able to tell if oyu are having symptoms on your own and should not need a mut to tell you. If you cannot them maybe inpatient treatment would be more benefical.

  4. Jayla says:

    Some people don’t read the ADA law Right! It does not say task it says tasks with a (S) on the end what does (S) mean to you it means more then one tasks.
    Don’t tell people they the dog only needs to know one task that is not true under (ADA) Laws! Please read it again.

  5. Fred says:

    How can people say that people that have provison can’t use a service dog its not true under ADA if the dog does a tasks, for you in your daily life and make life better for you its a service dog by law. My Service Dog help me know when cars are coming up behind and to the side of me. And lets me know if some one by my side. also dog help me so I can fell better being out in public. If I did not have my service dog I my be die to day because I did not see the car. So please never tell some one it not a tasks for this type of disablities.

  6. Pat says:

    It seems to me that there has to be some kind of compromise position. People with service dogs, whether for emotional or physical disabilities, you shouldn’t be subjected to unduly harsh measures. On the other hand, the store where I work has had so-called service dogs relieve themselves on the floor! Obviously this is unacceptable behavior. It seems to me that a simple test to ensure that service dogs, whether home trained or not, can behave themselves in public properly, and have something like a special-colored tag or collar to say that they had passed this testing. It would prevent business owners from having to stop and quiz people about their service dogs — a simple visual check would suffice. “Oh yes, that dog is wearing the Service Dog collar, all’s good.” I don’t see the difference between this and someone having a handicap license plate, for example.

  7. Wendy says:

    I’d like all of the people against diabled people training their own service dogs and buying the vests to put up the 10,000 I need to get my service dog. What? Not willing?? then shut the heck up!

  8. Katie says:

    Juan, I reccomend going to, it has loads of information about training a psychological service dog, so that your dog can be trained to mitigate your disability, also, Lee, my dog is a medical alert dog for a heart condition, however, he also alerts me to take my medication as I have very very bad ADHD and cannot reliably remember to take my medications, for ADHD and my heart condition, I can’t remember to set an alarm, and if I was to remember to set the alarm, I’d forget to put the watch on after my shower, or hear the alarm and get distracted before taking the meds just a minuet later…seriously, it happened *daily* before Ben came to me…some people, especially those with mental health disabilities, simply can’t do the whole “Why don’t you just” situations…they don’t apply.

  9. John says:

    EEdwin, cities, counties, etc,, can require a license but cannot charge for it. Clark County in Washington provides the license for service dogs at no charge.

    Wendy, there are sources for service dogs at no cost. The Prison pet partnership is one. My son has had two service dogs through them.

  10. lexies mom says:

    My daughter has a newly diagnosed neurological disorder, we have obtained a dog for her that we are training with the help of a local trainer. I am a single mom and could not afford the 5000-7000 for a fully trained dog and did not feel she could wait the 2 year list that most places have. We knew a local police woman who breeds German sheppards and she donated a 16 month old male to us. I had him neutered and started training. Her school is giving is a hard time as they have ideas about how German sheppards are dangerous. He alerts my daughter before a dystonic even starts so e can try to prevent it with medications, he carries her meds and gets help for her if she cant move. He is also being trained to get the phone ect. I am so glad that we can train him on our own no way could i do this for her and pay upfront. Several people question her as she looks totaly normal until all of a sudden she is not and is laying on the floor in a full body spasm. her dog is her friend and her caregiver

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