More and more people claiming their dog is a service animal

SEATTLE -- You see them more and more in stores, on airplanes and even in restaurants: owners making dubious claims that their pets are "service dogs."

Some of those dogs are unruly, injuring people and confusing matters for legitimate service dogs.

The problem is happening around the county. Dogs wearing "service dog" vests have been filmed behaving in ways that experts say a real service dog never would. One video shows an aggressive, barking dog was allowed into a hospital because its owner claimed it was a service animal.

Other pet owners are proudly posting photos of their faux service animals on social media. One Seattle McDonald's customer told police the cat on his backpack was a service animal, but video shows the cat going berzerk when a canister of pepper spray went off.

Claiming your pet is a service animal is technically a violation of federal and state law, but there's no enforcement. There is also a broad misunderstanding of what does and does not constitute a service animal. Complaints to the state office of human rights are increasing, and experts say confusion is causing those with real service animals to be unnecessarily doubted.

The Americans with Disabilities Act says a service dog is "individually trained to work or perform tasks for a person with a disability." It doesn't say how well trained the animal must be or who can train a service animal. It also doesn't offer a system to verify service animals.

KOMO News applied to have a dog with no training whatsoever become a certified service dog. A website offered to sell credentials and a badge that would make Roscoe appear to be a legal service dog.

There are scores of similar websites that require no proof of training before handing over a credentials.

Roscoe's package arrived a few days later. He got a badge, a photo ID and a registration card.

Genuine dog training takes time and money, but the Americans with Disabilities Act requires no test or certification.

"The ADA, they don't have enough rules in place. They're very loose," said dog trainer Becky Bishop.

Bishop runs Puppy Manners and said she can spot a fake service dog at a glance. She said she saw one just last month inside a store.

"Bam! Bam! Bam! Dog bit me. And I was bleeding. He bit me good, and I said, 'this isn't a service dog and you shouldn't be in here.' I finally decided to call somebody out. Nobody ever does. And I thought, 'these people need to be confronted,'" she said.

Bishop isn't the only person fed up with fake service dogs. Angry people are taking to Youtube with arguments over the vague federal service dog guidelines.

"You just don't know what side you can legally take or which side you should take, or not take one at all! For that matter," said Loui Velaoras, who owns the Grecian Corner Restaurant. "Very confusing. Very confusing."

The ADA says Velaoras can ask only two questions of service animal handlers: Is that a service dog? And what task does it perform for you? ID cards don't matter. Proof of training doesn't matter. Vests don't matter.

Service animals are not emotional support animals or therapy animals, which have no ADA protections. Real service dogs perform real tasks for people with real disabilities.

There is no law preventing people from questioning a person with a fake service dog. But how do you spot them? Look for dogs not wearing a leash or in a baby carriage or tote bag. Fake service animals may also be unruly or not stay next to their handler.

If an animal is an imminent threat, the business owner can order them to leave.

More information:

Americans With Disabilities Act

An open Community group on Facebook for Service Dog issues whose followers contributed to this story

A dog training company run by Becky Bishop who contributed to this story

File Washington State complaints over service animal issues with the Washington State Human Rights Office

ADA service animal information page
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