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Fake Service Dog Gear Creates Problems

By Kate Sanitch, Orlando Sentinel, 8/12/2013


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Click “petition” on the link in the second paragraph below to sign the petition


ORLANDO, Fla. — Public confusion, legal loopholes and shady Internet businesses have led to an “epidemic” of fake service-dog certificates, vests and harnesses for use on ordinary pets. And disability advocates say the issue is creating big headaches for those who truly need the canines’ assistance.

The problem has gotten so bad that Canine Companions for Independence — the nation’s largest breeding and training service-dog program — launched an online petition asking the U.S. Department of Justice to take action.

“Unfortunately, people are trading on the fact these harnesses and vests have become distinguishing marks of service dogs, so now you find unscrupulous businesses who sell these things to people who want to take their dogs into the store or restaurant or in the passenger cabin of the plane,” said Paul Mundell, national director of canine programs for CCI. “It happens all the time.”

On a recent flight to Orlando, where CCI has its regional headquarters, Mundell said he watched a man with a toy breed of dog walk off their flight to the baggage area, remove the dog’s “service animal” vest and leave the airport. “It was quite clear that he was simply using the vest to get cabin privileges,” Mundell said.

Under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, state and local governments, businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany those with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go. And inquiries are limited. When it’s not obvious what service an animal provides, workers may only ask if the service animal is required because of a disability and what tasks the dog has been trained to perform.

Legally, they can’t ask for documentation. And some say that fact is being exploited.

“There’s no penalty for people in Florida who fraudulently claim their dog is a service animal,” said Paul Edwards of Miami, president of the Florida Council of the Blind. “There are some of us who feel it isn’t unreasonable to ask folks to carry identification for dogs that shows them to be a trained service animal — and most legitimate service-dog organizations do issue those. The danger is that you may throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

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