Fake Service Dogs: What the Law Says

Yesterday I told you about the “fakers, those who falsely claim their pet is a service animal in order to take with them wherever they go. Now that we know there are some bad actors out there that are claiming their pets are service animals, what can be done about it?

Guide dogs are the most common type of service dog. Photo: Petfinder.com
Guide dogs are the most common type of service dog. Photo: Petfinder.com

By knowing what the Americans with Disabilities Act states, you can protect yourself and your business without violating the rights of persons with disabilities.  For those of you outside the US, these tips may help, but check your country’s laws pertaining to the use of service animals.

First of all, let me say this: Not all disabilities are obvious. Several people commented on seeing a person that did not “appear” to be disabled with a service animal. Just because they don’t appear so to you does not mean they’re “fakers.” There are dogs trained to do amazing things to help persons with seizure disorders, PTSD, and a myriad of other disabilities that you don’t readily recognize.

Dogs also assist with mobility. This dog is helping at the ATM machine.   Photo: vchca.org
Dogs also assist with mobility. This dog is helping at the ATM machine. Photo: vchca.org

So what does the law say about service animals?

As of 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under ADA. The dog must be trained to do work or perform tasks for the person with a disability. The exception is miniature horses, and they are addressed below. No other animals are recognized as service animals under ADA.

Businesses must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where other members of the public are allowed to go. No exceptions. A person with a service animal cannot be isolated from others or treated differently, and cannot be charged fees not charged to those without service animals.  If you treat a person with a service animal differently, you are guilty of discrimination.

If you have your doubts that a dog is a service animal, you may legally ask these two questions:

  • Is this animal required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has this animal been trained to perform?

If the person cannot answer those questions, you may have a faker on your hand. Time to let security or law enforcement take over. Some states, such as Hawaii, are really cracking down on fakers.

You cannot ask if the need for the service animal is obvious (e.g., the dog is guiding an individual who is blind or is pulling a person’s wheelchair.) You cannot ask about the nature or extent of an individual’s disability. You cannot require proof that the animal has been certified, trained or licensed as a service animal, or require the animal to wear an identifying vest.

This dog is helping improve the mobility of this boy by bringing him items. Photo: vchca.org

A service animal must be under control at all times. That means they must be leashed, harnessed, tethered, or otherwise restrained unless doing so would interfere with the service animal’s work or the person’s disability prevents the use of such devices.

A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove a service animal from the premises unless:
· The dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it
· The dog is not housebroken

If the dog is jumping up on others, tearing up merchandise, or otherwise out of control, you can ask the person to get their dog under control, and if they don’t, you can then ask them to remove the dog. However, if they do so, you must allow them to then return without the dog if they wish.

Business staff are not required to provide care or food for a service animal.

Miniature horses trained as service animals must be permitted if:
· The horse is housebroken
· The horse is under the owner’s control
· The facility can accommodate the horses type, size and weight, and
· The horse will not compromise legitimate safety requirements for the safe operation of the facility

A service mininature horse (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, FILE)
A service miniature horse (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, FILE)

A couple other things to keep in mind:

Therapy dogs and Emotional Support Animals serve important functions, but they are NOT service animals, and as such, are not covered under the ADA.

Service animals in rental homes are covered under The Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act covers service animal provisions for airline travel.

36 thoughts on “Fake Service Dogs: What the Law Says

  1. Those pictures of the dogs remind me of Keely!!! She is doing her mum proud I’m sure!

    Hope your mouth isn’t hurting anymore and thanks for the information!

  2. I read both posts, sometimes I can’t believe what kind of ideas some people can have. Fake Ser ice Dogs, where is the limit? Many thanks for the information Rumpy, thanks for writing about topics like that.

  3. You could certainly see your expertise in the article you write.

    The arena hopes for more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to say how they
    believe. Always go after your heart.

  4. Very informative posts from both today and yesterday! Well…in fact I didn’t know that we don’t say Therapy dogs and Emotional Support Animals are service dogs.For those who work as service dogs, humans should think of what really service dogs mean.

    1. I can only speak for how they are defined here in the US, Kevin. In the US, a service dog is an animal that’s trained to complete tasks that benefit a person with disabilities. It is that service that makes them able to be brought into public facilities. It simply puts the person with disabilities on a level playing field with an abled person.

  5. I’ve had a recommendation for a service dog for several reasons. However, I have 5 dogs already and am not allowed to have a service dog if I have that many dogs. The rules for having a service dog are something many people don’t know about.

  6. An excellent post with VERY important information. If more businesses and public were aware of how REAL service dogs should behave, then people with invisible disabilities wouldn’t be treated poorly and fakers would be too embarrassed to attempt such atrocious behavior. When I see fake service dogs (and it is always SO obvious to an informed person- dogs tugging at their leashes, growling at other dogs or customers, soiling in a business, etc.) I complain to the management. I make sure the business knows what can be asked and why I don’t believe the dog is trained/working. Education is power! And it is up to all of us to stop this fake service dogs epidemic so that real service dogs can continue to do their jobs.

    1. Absolutely! Many people with disabilities benefit from the help of a trained service animal. But fakers put others at risk by bringing untrained dogs into the public arena.

  7. My only concern is that people will feel it is okay to challenge people with real service dogs. I hope that we give people the benefit of the doubt unless the dog is unruly or otherwise causes a specific reason to doubt that they are a service dog. 75% of disabilities are “invisible” to a casual observer so it usually isn’t obvious why someone would need a service dog. People with psychiatric disabilities for example, may use a smaller service dogs in order to function in public; size also has little to do with a dog’s ability to sense seizures or provide other services such as alerting a deaf person. I can’t stand the fakers but I also can’t stand when a disabled person has to justify having their Service Dog with them.

    Thanks for helping educate 🙂

  8. The owner of a restaurant in town kicked out a veteran and his real service dog because he thought the man “didn’t look disabled.” Quite a few people had a peaceful protest outside, and after a week or so the owner agreed to meet the veteran and admitted that what he did was wrong. The protest and news coverage of the incident definitely helped educate him and others about what service dogs can do and what is allowed.

  9. I actually know someone who has a “therapy” dog but I seriously doubt the dog had any training, performed any kind of therapy or was anything other than a pet. On the other hand I once meet a super nice woman in a pet store with a small kitten she wanted to raise to take to nursing homes and she was exposing it to as many people and situations she could. And she gave it the smallest cute little treats for being petted by strangers. I’m sure that kitten brighten many older peoples lives,

    1. I’m all for therapy animals. I think they do a world of good. I have apron pen with fakers because they make it hard for people with disabilities.

  10. Jen, I understand what you are saying about fake service dogs, but there are many people with disabilities that are not visible to the eye. These people just don’t want to give out personal information about their disability to complete strangers. As a person with severe social anxiety, sometimes it is easier to show a card than dealing with people. Please contact me if you would be interested in giving free certification cards to some of your readers that need a card for their service animal. I hope you continue to keep writing more.

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