States seek to reform service animal laws

Hannah Gabel, Staff Writer

Most pet owners dream of being able to bring their animal with them everywhere. However, since many restricted areas forbid the presence of animals, it remains only a dream. Despite this, individuals with registered service animals are allowed to bring their animals with them most anywhere, since the service animals carry out a meaningful duty in keeping their owner safe. Service animals are trained for a number of purposes, including alerting the owner to an impending flare up of a health problem, passing out from conditions such as hyperglycemia, diabetes, or other health related issues, or leading them away from areas that pose health hazard to the owner. If the owner has an allergy to certain foods the animal can be trained to detect that and keep them away.

Registering  service animals can be a confusing process as currently there is no government sponsored registration site, and limited registration per state. Instead, an animal that passes a service training course is given a vest to wear and a signed piece of paper that indicates that they are fully registered. Unfortunately, many of those vests can be found online and easily replicated. Because of this easy access to a vest and the law making it illegal to question someone’s service animal’s legitimacy, many people are able to have so called “imposter service animals.” This means animals that have never gone through service training, and whose owners have no intent of putting them through service training, can go with the owner wherever they go. With this growing rate of imposters, all dogs are looked at warily and store and restaurant owners internally question whether the animal is really registered or not. Of course, there are some giveaways, such as if the dog is poorly trained in general or misbehaved.

While it is never okay to fake the status of a personal pet to pretend they are a service dog, it is understandable why people do so in order to bring their dogs on planes with them. Every year, pets are highly likely to go missing, end up sick or injured, or even dead if they are transported on planes with the rest of the luggage. Some airlines allow certain breeds of dogs in the cabin of a commercial airplane, but for many years they had to be crated and counted as checked luggage, which led to dangerous conditions for the animals. Because of that, people began buying service animal vests so they could get their larger dogs to ride in the cabin with them personally rather than in luggage compartments.

A number of states are beginning to implement laws that ban people from pretending to have a service animal. Wyoming is one state that has recently implemented a law like this. The biggest dangers with having fraudulent service animals is that people will bring their dogs into places they are not technically allowed to, which could result in distracting or startling a real service dog. If the fake service dog isn’t properly socialized or well behaved, it might try to attack, play with, or get the attention of a real service dog and prevent the service dog from doing their job. The Wyoming ban lists the misrepresentation of a service animal as a misdemeanor, and enforces the admittance that true service animals are allowed into large and small businesses, while also eliminating discrimination in apartment complexes or rental homes against people that have service animals. At least 19 states across the country, with more following suit, have enacted laws similar to this that punish people for misrepresenting their animals as a service animal.

These states are taking large steps in the right direction, helping to reduce the amount of imposter service animals to keep true service animals properly focused on their job. Airlines are also trying to accommodate animal transportation, but there is room for more improvement. Everyone wants to be able to bring their beloved pet with them wherever they go, but that does not mean people should be going to extremes to fake their animals as a service animal. People can now face a fine, a misdemeanor charge, and other legal affairs have been and will continue to be implemented to prevent them from continuing to misrepresent their personal pet. These individuals need to remember that service animals serve an important purpose for their owners in keeping them safe and protected every day and that this should not be something that other people fake for their own personal convenience.

 

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