Fake service dogs create problem for Americans with disabilities

Traveling with your Service Dog’ at LAX
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 advocates for the disabled 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 this week 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.

Certification does not mean an individual dog is a service dog. Neither does registration or an official looking ID. There are several businesses selling fake certification, registration and IDs over the internet. All a person need do to get these products is pay a fee. Their dog is never tested and their disability is never verified. All the product really means is that the person was willing to pay money to get it.

If you question whether ID or certification is legitimate, a quick internet search of the name of the organization will reveal whether it is an agency that actually trains service dogs, or one that merely certifies, registers, or identifies any dog sight-unseen for a fee.

How can you tell a REAL service dog if ID cards and certificates are actually meaningless? The US Department of Justice permits businesses to ask two questions:
1. Is this a service dog required because of disability?
2. What is it trained to do to mitigate the disability?

Remember that “[a]nimals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, or to promote emotional well-being are not service animals…” so a service animal must be specifically trained to DO something.

Additionally, if the animal behaves inappropriately, by disrupting business, behaving aggressively, interfering with other patrons or clients (say by sniffing them or jumping up on them), or toileting inappropriately, then it doesn’t matter whether it is a service dog because you can still exclude it on the basis of “fundamental alteration” or “direct threat.”

BE WARNED: when you see a fake certification, it is a STRONG indication that the dog is not a legitimate service dog. People with legitimate service dogs tend to be familiar with laws and know that certification is not required so long as the dog meets the legal definition. Those who purchase fake certification do so because they, or those they encounter, doubt their dog’s real status and it is easier to purchase a fake document than to actually get their dog properly trained and evaluated by an expert.

Examples of certification/registration/ID for a fee schemes:

SARA (Service Animal Registry of America)
USARplus (United Service Animal Registry) *
Goldstar German Shepherds
SDA (Service Dogs America)
Registered Service Dog
SDCA (Service Dog Certification of America, aka Certify My Dog)
NSAR (National Service Animal Registry)
American Service Dogs
Service Dog ID
Certified Service Dog
National Association of Service Dogs
Service Dog Tags, aka emotionalsupportanimals dot org **
Free My Paws
CRTASA (Canadian Registry of Therapy Animals and Service Animals)
USSDR (United States Service Dog Registry) – registration is free, but they also sell official looking certificates and ID
emosdogtags ***

Note: Not a single service listed above tests the dogs they certify, register, or ID. They do nothing to verify the dog’s training or the owner’s disability. All that is required is that the purchaser fill out a form with the information for the certificate and where to mail it, and include payment ranging from $35 to over $200 depending on the package being purchased.

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