Service animal scams now “epidemic … across the country”

by Walter Olson on September 10, 2013

Marcie Davis, founder of International Assistance Dog Awareness Week, noted that ordinary pets passed off as service dogs — often with fake badges, vest, or papers bought off the internet — disrupt public places and eat food at restaurants, bring suspicion on genuine service dogs, and even on occasion get into fights with real service dogs like hers. Davis “said the fakers are also taking advantage of laws that limit the interaction a business owner can have with a disabled person. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits requiring identification documents for a service animal and does not allow any questioning about specifics of a person’s disability.” [CBS Baltimore]

{ 16 comments }

1 bugello907 09.10.13 at 3:34 pm

Cities and businesses need to know the differences between a Service dog and Emotional Support Dog. It is the emotional support folks that are trying to confuse the public with their ‘service dog’ outfitted in fancy vests and tags which appear to be official.

In 2011, The Department of Justice ruled that since Emotional Support Dogs are not formally trained to perform a function (open the refrigerator, turn off a light, etc) these are NOT SERVICE DOGS and no longer have to be admitted into establishments. Emotional support dogs are not covered under the ADA so anyone has the right to question the owner. If in doubt, ask what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. If it is to provide ‘emotional support’ versus aiding someone with a disablility then they are not entitled to accommodation.

Due to rampant abuse, airlines now require passengers using ESAs to have medical documentation submitted in advance for verification. If fraud is suspected the airline agents can google the doctors name and call to verify. Case in point, a passenger had cut/pasted another doctor’s information and wrote herself a bogus letter. The doctor was contacted and filed fraudulent charges against the passenger after the airline faxed a copy of the letter to him. Number one clue is when they start screaming when you call to verify and acts of intimidation do not affect airline agents.

As the proper definitions become more familiar, business owners can have more confidence fully knowing that is okay to question the fakers who threaten businesses citing an ADA rule that does not exist for emotional support dogs.

Perhaps laws like this need to be posted at the front door.

CALIFORNIA Penal Code 365.7:

(a)Any person who knowingly and fraudulently represents himself or herself, through verbal or written notice, to be the owner or trainer of any canine licensed as, to be qualified as, or identified as, a guide, signal, or service dog, as defined in subdivisions (d), (e), and (f) of Section 365.5 and paragraph (6) of subdivision (b) of Section 54.1 of the Civil Code, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment. (b)As used in this section, “owner” means any person who owns a guide, signal, or service dog, or who is authorized by the owner to use the guide, signal, or service dog.

2 Richard Nieporent 09.10.13 at 8:09 pm

Unfortunately we have a Catch 22 situation here. The article states “The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits requiring identification documents for a service animal and does not allow any questioning about specifics of a person’s disability.” Thus while emotional support dogs can legally be barred from no-pets-allowed places, how can the businessman determine whether it is an emotional support dog or a service dog without risking violating the law?

3 prior probability 09.10.13 at 8:43 pm

Also, don’t forget the disability parking tags scam … I remember reading some years ago how in Puerto Rico, where I used to live, the Dept. of Motor Vehicles (DTOP, as it is known in Spanish) has issued more tags for disabled parking than there are disabled people

4 Scott 09.11.13 at 5:38 am

By law it seems that a store or restaurants cannot require documentation but that doesn’t mean they can’t ask. I’ll speculate that simply asking for documentation will become a part of a civil suit that will be settled out of court.

5 Fubar 09.11.13 at 5:24 pm

A question — Do courts consider asking a dog’s owner what services the dog is trained to perform to be equivalent to “questioning about specifics of a person’s disability”?

If not, then that would indicate the acceptable question to ask in order to determine the dog’s actual function as a service dog or emotional support dog.

6 Humor_Me 09.12.13 at 12:53 am

Most of the time, you can tell by the dog’s behavior whether or not it is a Service Dog. If the dog is sitting on a restaurant seat, eating off the plate, making a potty mistake (and the owner makes no move to clean it [because they ARE dogs after all]), begging for food, acting aggressively, begging for attention, barking inappropriately, sitting in the grocery cart, overly dirty or smelly, running around, not next to handler (unless they are trying to get help), and jumping on strangers. Please remember that some thing YOU may perceive to be bad behavior for a Service Dog (i.e. pulling the handler) may in fact be a task.

To require us to get “registration” or “identification” would be difficult if not impossible given the vast array of tasks and alerts (epileptics would be required to show their dog’s ability, HOW?), and the expense for those of us already on a limited income would be devastating. Then there are those that would simply bypass all that and make fake ones the same way they make fake driver’s licenses, fake passports, and fake credit cards.

Now who will test all these dogs? What if the dogs are having an off day? Don’t tell me you’ve NEVER had an off day. Who’s your favorite sports star? Who’s your favorite race car driver? Have they EVER lost? You bet they have. Dogs have bad days too. What if test day is an off day and the tester fails the dog even thought the dog has performed flawlessly the last 364 days of the year? How is that fair? Do you have to not use your dog for another year? How would you like to be locked away for another year because you had one bad day? Because some people would be left to that.

7 Bob Lipton 09.12.13 at 9:39 am

So, Humor Me, if your epilepsy service dog is having an off day, it’s ok?

Bob

8 kirsten 09.12.13 at 12:41 pm

i have a service dog.
her ability to help me up off the floor when i fall, to help me walk, and to get me out of a building safely have made a huge difference in my safety and ability to get around.
does she have off days? sure. she got ill one time after a vet visit, and we had a hard time getting paper towels to clean up.
how can i demonstrate her ability? fall down? and crawl back up with her help? uh….. thanks, but i would rather not… i at least CAN demonstrate her ability.

seizure alert and diabetic alert dogs cannot. what do you want to do? induce a low blood sugar crash in their human to watch her perform? uh right… risk disaster for a test.

and yes, better a dog that can save my diabetic friends life 80% of the time, than no dog. my friend’s dog woke her up out of sleep to test her sugar repeatedly over the years, and once, when she wouldnt wake up… woke up her husband in time to save her life.
yeah, i will take that over nothing

My service dog is currently in semi retirement owing to having had some idiot run over her tail with a shopping cart in a store.
(she now thinks all shopping carts are hazards i have to be taken away from, which kind of limits her help out shopping, although we did find out that the training in how to operate a fire exit door had worked just dandy….)

9 Humor_Me 09.12.13 at 9:12 pm

Bob Lipton,

Is it okay when you have an off day? Do you get sick? Do you get the flu? A cold? Eat something that disagreed with you? Are you human? If you are a living being and dogs are living beings, then the same thing happens to them. You have NEVER made a mistake at work? EVER?

Things happen. We train and we train and we train, but continuing fakers force us to train harder and harder because we never know where we will meet them and have to prove our case. Who else has to prove who they are more than us? We don’t ASK to be stared at, questioned about our private lives, pointed at, shied away from because some faker has probably lunged at them in the past. Do you know how many times a day I hear, “Look at the doggie!” and “Can I pet your dog?” Nobody ever says, “Hi my name is [insert me here]. That’s a nice dog you have. Would you like to join our dog club/come for a drink/go out for dinner/can I have your number?” I’m just a dog in a store. A novelty.

And I’m so glad that you’ve been able to diagnose me over the internet. Are you a psychic? Or you’re just using the example I gave to assume that my dog is is an epileptic alert dog? You make some mighty big assumptions there for someone who doesn’t know me or my dog. I suggest you stick to generalizations, they suit you better.

10 JohnC 09.13.13 at 2:43 am

It’s odd how many people claim need of a service dogs on a flight
to wherever the AKC championships are being held. Amazing, really.

@Humor_Me
“Most of the time, you can tell by the dog’s behavior whether or not it is a Service Dog.”

Completely agree. And the owner’s behavior (with the dog) can be just as much a give away. Though, contrary to what many may think, breed is often a poor indicator of legit creds (i.e., I was surprised to learn thatm kickable as they seem, papillons make decent service dogs).

“To require us to get “registration” or “identification” would be difficult if not impossible given the vast array of tasks and alerts (epileptics would be required to show their dog’s ability….”

I have a working dog (cadaver search), and when he travels with me for work, I sometimes have the same demo request. Though, the request tends to end when I say, “Okay, just go outside and — wait, which do you prefer: the desiccated finger or fake corpse spay?”

@Bob Lipton
“So, Humor Me, if your epilepsy service dog is having an off day, it’s ok?”

The off day isn’t related to serving the disability; it’s that, e.g., after a long flight to a strange place, you may not get perfect obedience. The dog’s not going to main a toddler or walk his owner into traffick; at most he may bark a bitor even, uh, “stake his territory.” It’s rare, but it happens for even exceptionally well-trained dogs.

11 Bob Lipton 09.13.13 at 1:52 pm

Humor Me, you chose the example of an epilepsy service dog. Then when I took your example and spoke about an “off day” you seemed to get very, very angry. So: you get to define the terms of discourse and revise them when some one else makes a point? I ask so I can figure out if there’s any way to win this debate on intellectual grounds or if it’s “Give me what I want or I’ll resort to name calling, which will prove my point”, which seems to be the rules so far.

As for me, when I am unable to do my job, I call in and say “I can’t do my job today. Do I need a doctor’s note?” Is that what your service animal does?

Bob

12 Bob Lipton 09.13.13 at 2:22 pm

Kirsten & JohnC,

Thanks for providing some light on the situation. I am a fan of old movies and recently saw the MARCH OF TIME episode in which they made a fuss about changing New York City’s health laws to allow Seeing Eye Dogs in taxicabs. Seventy-five years later, I think “What can of worms they opened up!”

So, given the situation, how would you guys, as legitimate owners of service animals deal with situations such as the one recounted in Lowering the Bar’s “Free Advice: Service-Animal Claim Is Stronger If Animal Not Dressed as Pirate”? (http://www.loweringthebar.net/2011/03/service-animal-pirate.html) How do we determine and balance the needs of people who use service animals with those of the more general public, some of whom have allergies and phobias? What do we do in a business situation in which the boss has two employees, one of who requires an emotional support animal to function in public, the other has allergies or phobias and the boss may not, because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, dispense with either?

13 JohnC 09.13.13 at 9:14 pm

That story seems to involve monkeys, not dogs. There’s no such thing as service monkeys (at least here).

Re your proposed ADA cage match, I believe Walter had a post on that precise question re a NYT article a few years ago (the original article was titled something like, “Treating One Worker’s Allergies Sets Off Another’s”). Indeed, there’s no shortage of these cases, including a number involving cabbies (note: putting the dog in the trunk is not a reasonable solution).

And there’s no easy answer. Employers are required both to (a) provide a reasonable accommodation to both, and (b) treat neither one better than the other. (Though neither allergies nor phobias are protected, unless they rise to the level of disability; and dog allergies are unlikely, by themselves, to rise to that level.) What make the issue especially problematic is just how vicious and unsympathetic the two sides — each probably used to being the “victim” and claiming the moral high ground — become.

For now, it’s something most employers can solve if they actually give two thoughts about the ADA (most don’t). That may not be the case as the ADA’s definitions of disability and requirements for accommodations continue to hypertrophy. [Insert usual forecast re reluctance in hiring the disabled, etc.]

14 JohnC 09.13.13 at 10:34 pm

Above all, let’s not forget how much dogs can show us:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/99626732@N07/9738294794/

15 Alison D. Petro 09.20.13 at 12:26 pm

I’ve got a Psychiatric Service Dog that does an Awesome job of keeping me of meds that have horrible side effects, and keeping me out of the hospital. She also does many other things for me. I’ve spent lots of time thinking about relatively cheep in general things that could be done to determine a service dog or one in training from the fakers. For example most fakers couldn’t pass an AKC CGC test ( http://www.akc.org/events/cgc/program.cfm and http://www.akc.org/events/cgc/training_testing.cfm) also I believe every state and county in the US requires current Rabies records be on file for every owned dog with the health department. That being said maybe for a very small fee a basic letter of need from a doctor can go with a letter from a local dog trainer or any personal calling them self a professional dog trainer stating that this dog is trained or training for service dog work and the owner/handler has a verified need/use for a service dog. Much passed basic “public access” abilities I personally could care less how much or little a dog can do for their owner/handler. If someone can benefit from the use of a service dog and a health care professional of some kind agrees with that then all I ask is for the dog to be well behaved and not cause a problem.

I think I just rambled lots, but I think most of you will get the idea.

16 Sarah 09.21.13 at 12:27 pm

“There’s no such thing as service monkeys ”

JohnC, tell that to Helping Hands, the non-profit organization in Boston that breeds and trains small capuchin monkeys to work as service animals for patients with limited mobility. They’re trained at Helping Hands’ Monkey College, and I’m aware of at least one person in Vermont who has one.

Go to monkeyhelpers-dot-org for details.

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