SERVICE ANIMAL LAWS
People who pass off their dogs as service animals in order to take them into stores, restaurants, libraries, sporting events and offices are a real problem for the proprietors of those establishments, their customers and disabled people who genuinely rely on the help of their service dogs.
Passing off a pet as a service dog is easy enough to do. Anyone can go online and purchase for about $20 the types of vests that legitimate service dogs usually wear. The vests may help the fake service dogs gain entry, but their behavior, and that of their owners, often gives them away.
Trained service dogs don’t go off-leash, bark, knock things off shelves, jump on people, play or fight with other dogs, or grab food off tables, trainers say. Owners of real service dogs don’t carry them in shopping carts or purses. The rule is four on the floor with all four feet on the ground except when a dog is performing a task. The problem is that the proprietors of establishments where people bring their dogs have no way of determining whether a dog is a real service animal.
There is no uniform nationwide certification or registration process for legitimate service animals — which receive up to several years of specialized training — making it easy for people to scam a non-existent system. And the easy availability online of "service dog" harnesses and vests is all too tempting for animal-owners who want company running errands and going out.
Most prominent, however, is that a new generation of animal-lovers are seeking notes from their doctors declaring that their pet helps soothe anxiety or ease depression and that the animals should be deemed "support animals." Support animals, however, don't qualify as service animals, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act — the governing law of all service animals, according to experts.
Americans With Disabilities cites that emotional support dogs or animals do not have the training to do specific tasks in assisting a person with disability or impairment, unlike service animals. Hence, the pets may not be allowed to accompany their owner in public places.
Therapy dogs are not considered service dogs, therefore are not included in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Therapy dogs do not have public access rights for any place where pet dogs are not allowed.
The new laws largely do not apply to "support" animals, because businesses already have the legal right to turn away almost all of them. But because most business owners won't risk a suit by asking about specifics, legislators and advocates are simply hoping that their laws will discourage support and service animal scammers.
Business owners don't want to delve into whether the animal is a "service" animal — protected under the ADA — or a "support" pet. Support animals are not protected under the ADA, with exceptions for those that comfort veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Service dogs are trained to perform tasks for a person with a disability. The laws in over 20 states make it a misdemeanor to represent an untrained dog as a service animal, and usually come with fines of no more than $500 for an incident.
The American with Disabilities Act requires all places open to the public, such as businesses, government agencies and entertainment venues, to give access to service dogs and their owners. And it permits them to ask only two questions: whether the dog is required because of a disability and what tasks the dog is trained to perform. It is illegal to request documentation for the dog or to ask the nature of the owner’s disability.
There’s another complication: the growing use of “emotional support dogs,” which are intended to provide comfort to those with anxiety or other emotional problems. Some of them may have received special training, although nothing as rigorous as the training for service dogs. (Emotional support dogs are not covered under the ADA and can legally be denied access.)
Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Connecticut’s public accommodations law, people with disabilities have the right to be accompanied by their service animals in restaurants, hotels, stores, theaters, and other places that are *OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
CT is passing legislation to fine owners passing off their pet as a service animal.
The long-term goal, Zemaitis said, is the creation of a national certification program and registry for legitimately trained service dogs. “This is the beginning of a much larger conversation we need to have.”