This Fall’s Hottest Accessory: Fake Service Dogs?

A growing number of dog owners are trying to pass their untrained companions off as service animals — and they’re actually getting away with it. Many owners who want to take their dogs into movie theaters, restaurants, or on public transit see it as a quick solution, but people with disabilities are starting to complain that the number of “imposters” is making it hard for people with legitimate service animals to be taken seriously.

It turns out it’s not hard to do — there is no national regulation for licensing service animals. Owners do not have any kind of special ID for their pets, and they are allowed to purchase service dog harnesses and vests without providing proof that their dog has been trained to meet any particular special needs. Unfortunately, there is no law against selling knock-off service dog gear.

Lauren Henderson, a California actor with mobility problems, told NPR in a recent interview that she’s seeing untrained “service dogs” more and more often. Because service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for their owners, like guiding the blind, pulling wheelchairs, or even assisting in treatment for illness, they don’t behave like a pet would. They don’t sit on their owner’s laps, growl at strangers or stop to mark their territory. Henderson worries these poorly-behaved dogs will reflect badly on people with legitimate needs and cause business owners to discriminate against her.

She’s right to worry. People often don’t know how to tell the difference between a licensed service dog and a fake, so service dog handlers risk being harassed at airports, denied service at restaurants and even having their helpers barred from classrooms when a manager takes one look at the animal and decides it’s not really necessary.

In the past few months alone, there are have been headlines nationwide about people with disabilities being unlawfully denied their service dogs — from Iraq and Vietnam war veterans with combat-related issues, to a diabetic middle schooler whose dog was barred from monitoring her blood sugar levels in the classroom.

Unfortunately, the people who try to pass off their pets as service dogs are rarely aware of the impact it has on legitimate service animal owners. They see it as a way to avoid leaving their dogs tied up outside and to spend more quality time together — or as a way to pick up dates, as one owner admitted in a recent New York Post article.

So what’s the solution? Confronting people you suspect may be faking a disability will only make the problem worse — especially if you turn out to be wrong. Instead, we need to start lobbying state governments to better regulate the licensing of service animals. Making it a crime to sell fake service dog gear would also go a long way toward solving the problem.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a month ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Mary Beth M.
MaryBeth M.2 years ago

Shameful and disgraceful. Persons with legitimate service dogs have a difficult enough time gaining access and being accepted without all the bad press from poorly trained, bad behaviored faux service dogs. The last we need is more licensing, but it should be obvious in the dog's behavior. Service dogs are well mannered and well trained.

Maria L.
Maria L.2 years ago

How about instead of producing more bureaucracy with licensing service dogs just implement a nationwide law prohibiting under penalty to ban dogs from all public space. No more "no dogs allowed signs" on buildings, shopping malls, shops, restaurants... The dog paws are no more dirty than the shoes of human customers... and the dogs themselves tend to be cleaner than many customers and better behaved than many children of the customers.

Kathlene Lentz
Kathlene Lentz2 years ago

faking it, by all means, question them. But do it politely just in case you're wrong about them.

Kathlene Lentz
Kathlene Lentz2 years ago

I take my dogs with me wherever I am allowed to take them. I really wish more businesses would allow my dogs inside because that's the best way to train them and socialize them. But I would never try to pass my dogs off as service animals just to get them inside a business or on public transportation. People who do something like that are the same people who park in handicap spaces even though they aren't handicapped. People seem to think that having a handicapped passenger entitles them to park in a handicap space even if the passenger isn't going to exit the vehicle. WRONG! I'm tired of people who think that an exception should be made for THEM because THEY are special.

On the other hand, I am also tired of people who look at me and can't see my disability so assume that it doesn't exist. I've been yelled at for using the handicap stall in a restroom, even though it was the only open stall. I have news for those idiots who yell at me for making them wait like normal people: I have an illness that makes having access to a bathroom imperative. Just because you have an easily visible handicap does not mean that you have more right to use a bathroom stall without waiting than anyone else does.

The lesson here is that people who don't have the right to use handicap spaces and bring their animals into businesses should not be allowed to get away with it, but you cannot tell just by looking at a person whether they have a disability. If you feel that someone is

Fran B.
Fran B.2 years ago

It's great to be able take your pet to places. But to pose a pet as a 'service animal' is wrong because the behavior of the pet (which is normal for pets but not service animals) may cause trouble in the place/at an event(etc.), which will ultimately end up making it harder for real service animals to be allowed access.

Cynthia B.
cynthia B.2 years ago

there's no accounting for stupidity nor selfishness. Years ago when working as a food server the hostess let in someone that said their dog was a seeing eye dog-yeah a chihuahua. Service dogs are trained and mannered. People posing as handicapped are despicable.
There should be a data base and ID's

Sandi C.
Sandi C.2 years ago

service dogs are well trained animals not a pet.

Shannah Slagle`
Shannah Slagle2 years ago

I think if your animals well behaved it should be aloud in places like theaters! They see its a problem but the difference between a service dog and a pet is the owner not the ability