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Pet Owners Who Skirt Rules With Fake Service Dogs Are Committing Fraud

Service dog with owner

They’re the ire of legitimate service dog owners and they’re also guilty of fraud.

They’re pet owners who pass their animals off as service dogs by using phony credentials which in turn allows their pets to live in restricted housing, accompany them inside restaurants and hotels or fly for free in airplane cabins rather than in cargo holds

“I don’t want to say it’s a scam, but it is a scam,” said Nick Kutsukos, 72, who runs Elite K9 Academy in Jupiter, Fla., and has trained service dogs for 40 years.

People who fake a disability and/or pretend their pet is a service animal risk at least a fine or, in extreme cases, federal fraud charges.

And getting certification is as easy as filling out a form online, sending in your money and perhaps a photograph of your dog. For anywhere from $20 to $300, an owner gets a specially marked dog vest or collar, dog identification tags or ID cards, a certificate, training DVDs, information CDs and other official-looking items.

But none of it is actually required by law.

“There is no certification required, so there’s no such thing as a legitimate (document),” said Toni Eames, president of the Michigan-based International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, who is also blind and has her own guide dog.
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Given the time and money invested in training service dogs, disabled users and trainers are angered by those who buy or sell worthless service-dog items online for impostor pets. These fake certifications can make it difficult for people with legitimate service dogs to do certain things. A restaurant manager, for example, might think twice about allowing a legitimate service dog inside because of a bad experience with a fake service dog that barked or misbehaved.

The best way to tell if a service dog is legitimate is to observe its behavior, authorities say. Service dogs won’t appear restless or jump or bark. They will obey the disabled owner’s commands, perform tasks and lie down passively where instructed.

The U.S. Department of Justice last month amended guidelines to narrow the definition of service animals to dogs that are trained to perform specific tasks related to the owner’s proven disability.

Jose Lopez of The Lighthouse of Broward, Florida, who has his own guide dog and who is also a consultant for guide-dog training schools, sums up this unfortunate situation this way: “If you portray yourself as disabled, or your pet as a service animal, the minute you go out in public you’re committing a crime. It’s felony fraud.”

Story By Elaine Furst For Dog Files

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Chris
Chris
10 years ago

I don’t see why there can’t be a national registry. I know one guy who bought a vest online for his dog and takes him everywhere. Malls, restaurants, hotels, etc. He even got into a heated discussion regarding his dog after a security guard asked him to remove his pet from a soccer game. This person has no disabilities.

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Reply to  Chris

abslutely agree with you!!!!

Sgt Family
Sgt Family
10 years ago

Be careful when you say that…there are service dogs and companion dogs for psychological disabilities too, which are not always visible!

Janette Hamilton
Janette Hamilton
10 years ago

Personally I think people who try to pass off the family dog as a service dog really have no respect for the disabled or their amazing dogs. It takes a vast amount of time and patience to train a service dog, they are highly intelligent animals that perform a great service to society, That having been said perhaps if restrictions of access for dogs were not so limited people would not feel the need to do this.

Special Education teacher
Special Education teacher
10 years ago

I’m training my dog to be a therapy dog and have purchased her a vest to wear, but my dogs vest clearly states “Therapy Dog IN-TRAINING.” She has to be allowed into places to get use to being inside buildings and walking on the slippery floors. Our house is 90% carpet. It’s part of her training and it’s part of her learning right from wrong. Yet, she makes mistakes occasionally. I always correct her and make her do the right thing. I’m also a special education teacher so I would in no way ever want it to seem like we are trying to be fraudulent or hurt people with disabilities, but I’m sure some people would see it as that. My intent is to have my dog help people with disabilities when training is completed, not to make an excuse to have my dog with me. I love having her with me, but not at the cost of our team and hard work ruined. Please be careful not to group or judge situations all as one thing without knowing each and every persons story.

Z3nyatta
Z3nyatta
10 years ago

According to the law, your therapy dog does not “have to be allowed into places”.  Therapy dogs do not have the same access rights as assistance dogs and must have permission before they can legally be allowed in any public place. 

Dakotagirl403
Dakotagirl403
10 years ago

Special Education Teacher, I totally agree. I to have a 8 month old Therapy Dog In Training and he is also deaf. He wears a vest that reads “please ask before petting” and “dog in training” and a band that says “Nitro – Deaf Dog”..I still have people in public rush up to pet him even with his vest on. Since he is training for his CGC Certification and he is in a level 4 training, he knows when he wears a vest it is time to be serious and work. I have been to events where security has asked me if he is a service dog in training and I clearly state no he is a Therapy dog in training and I never enter under false pretense. Also my dog is in training 5 days per week and goes out 4 days a week into the public arena. We only take him to restaurants that welcome all dogs (outside seating area) and he lays under the table and does not move. I’m lucky because my dog is in the media often and everyone knows what he is training for but I have seen dogs with wearing choke collars (wearing a service vest) who behave badly and you have to wonder what thier owners are thinking. Everyone should be very careful not to judge.

MsTazzy2000
MsTazzy2000
10 years ago
Reply to  Dakotagirl403

I have a service dog in training who wears a head halter ,he used to pull me in the wheelchair when i broke my ankle .So if i dont put it on he thinks he has to pull me . Also i dont look like i need a service dog , but i Have hipdisplaysa ,fibromyalga, backproblems , asthma . So on the outside i dont look like i need help .But there is more then once he saved my life. And i have people say bad things to me and i am very sad that they dont ask before they juge me . 

Shelter Diaries
Shelter Diaries
10 years ago

A large part of what sets a “service dog in training” apart from a “service dog imposter” with many people is, honestly, the behavior of its handler. I share a lot of the same frustrations (trying to prepare a dog to begin SaR training), but respect for others is at the heart of every service that a dog performs, and most legit handlers I’ve seen reflect that. A lot of places that allow service dogs do not permit service dogs in training, however, and it’s just part of the whole package deal to handle those situations with grace, dignity and friendliness. Besides, it sets a good example for the dog. 🙂

^ Note to Special Education Teacher, above: The best place I’ve found to socialize my dog indoors thus far has been Bass Pro Shops. There are a ton of unusual new stimulii (wood, tile and concrete floors, elevators in some stores, duck ponds and fountains, open stairways, and all sorts of vehicles), and the staff are exceptionally dog-friendly and encouraging.

Cjustpeachie
Cjustpeachie
10 years ago

THAT’S PRETTY SAD!!

Caninescando
Caninescando
10 years ago

If a store is not selling open food items I have no problem with people shopping with their dogs as long as they are well-behaved. Many cities have a relaxed attitude toward this practice like Boston, NYC, and LA. More access is a good thing. But people lying and dressing their dogs up in vests to gain special access is just plain wrong. Be careful though, some disabilities are psychological, or related to epilepsy, so don’t be too quick to judge. And if you are injured or recovering in a hospital and are visited by a therapy dog, remember that his owner put in many hours to train him, including public visits, so that he could be well-behaved when visiting you!

Georgievegas
Georgievegas
10 years ago

By law a service/companion dog doesn’t have to wear a vest. A service/companion dog owner, should only be ask “Are you disabiled & is that a serviceand/or companion dog”. The answer to both question is “should be Yes”. The way the owner & the dog behaves should tell you the answer. As posted in the above statements, You can’t always tell what a person’s disabilities are just by looking at them, shouldn’t judge. Shouldn’t leave notes or make nasty statements about someone’s conditions, when you have no idea what that person is going through.

Kathryn
Kathryn
10 years ago

National registrys, special training, public tests?  Nonsense!  You don’t see people rushing to suggest the same for kids.  My service dog has been in many grocery stores with open food stock and not once did she put her paw in a bulk food basket or sneeze and cough on the offerings at the olive bar.  As usual, the actions of few have brought on miseries to the many.  Many of the businesses that complained to the DOJ did so because they and/or their employees did not “see” any diability and therefore decided that the person was not diabled and was passing their pet off as a service animal.  Many of us do not have visible disabilites.  And, yes, some of us react negatively to questions because we have had bad experiences with other shops and the ignorance of the employees.
 
The answer to this problem is education.  Businesses, their employees and service animal owners/handlers need to know their rights and responsibilities regarding service animals.  Businesses can ask 2 questions:  1) Is this a service animal?; and 2) What task(s) does it perform?  Each business should ask (in a non-accusory tone) these questions of anyone who enters the establishment with a service animal.  If the owner/handler of the service animal gets upset, tough!  The owner/handler is financially responsible for any damage caused by the service animal.  A business can ask an owner/handler to remove any animal that becomes aggressive or is out of the owner’s control.  This is a matter of public safety and not discrimination.  So there are limitations regarding service animals.
 
While there are people out there who take advantage, the overwhelming majority of animals are undoubtly service animals.  And while the DOJ has revised the definition of a service animal, I suspect they will again revise the law again to accomodate the disabled who use non-traditional service animals such as cats, parrots, monkeys etc..
 

Digitaldarling
9 years ago

Lifted any good articles from the Miami Herald lately?

Momma Goose
9 years ago

In my research online it is clear that you can either pay a very large amount of money for a service dog, for yourself or a family member, that is trained at one of a few centers or you can put in your own extensive time and energy to train a dog to assist you or someone in your family. Yes, in the first case the dog is going to come into your family highly trained, but in the second case it is also possible for the dog to become a highly trained professional. For the many of us without the cash, and the extensive time spent waiting in most cases for center trained service dogs, home-based training may be the only viable alternative. Both of my sons have disabilities, and for one they are all internal, and the other’s are more obvious (he has Down syndrome with related issues and a severe expressive speech disability). The first doesn’t need the help of a service dog, though he would benefit from a specially trained companion dog. The second would qualify, and would definitely benefit, from a service dog. In any case we don’t have the money almost all centers charge so we will have to do the training ourselves if and when we decide to take that step.

If a dog is trained, functioning and behaving as a service dog it should get the freedom of a service dog. If a dog is not then it shouldn’t get these benefits. Period. It shouldn’t matter where the dog received it’s training or from whom. The fact of the training so it functions and behaves as a service dog should is sufficient. The same is true no matter what type of animal is being a service animal.

I knew a boxer who provided excellent service assistance to her owner for many years and was home trained. He has significant motor issues including frequent falls when walking, and he often has needed to use his wheelchair. He also has very tricky diabetes. She knew to walk beside him and provide support, help him stand when he fell, get help if he didn’t try to get up, and fetch and carry common items for him. It also seemed to his wife that the dog behaved differently when his blood sugar was particularly low or particularly high prompting her to insist he or she test when these behaviors were seen in the dog.

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