Monday, September 22, 2008

People Claiming Their Dogs are Service Dogs to Take them in Public Beware

Everyday in the service dog community there are discussions of what to do about people who do not have disabilities passing their pets off as Service Dogs. Furthermore, just because a person happens to have a dog, does not automatically make the animal a service dog [See my previous post What is a Service Dog]. The combination of the presence of a disability, the fact that a dog can be trained to mitigate the effects of that disability, and the facts the animal has been individually trained to performs tasks that mitigate that disability are the key elements to defining whether or not a person and animal comprise a working service dog and are protected under the ADA. People buying service dog gear and passing off themselves and their pets as service animals are not only possibly committing federal fraud, they may also be breaking state and local laws. The definition of fraud according to Free Dictionary.com is :

fraud n. the intentional use of deceit, a trick or some dishonest means to deprive another of his/her/its money, property or a legal right. A party who has lost something due to fraud is entitled to file a lawsuit for damages against the party acting fraudulently, and the damages may include punitive damages as a punishment or public example due to the malicious nature of the fraud. Quite often there are several persons involved in a scheme to commit fraud and each and all may be liable for the total damages. Inherent in fraud is an unjust advantage over another which injures that person or entity. It includes failing to point out a known mistake in a contract or other writing (such as a deed), or not revealing a fact which he/she has a duty to communicate, such as a survey which shows there are only 10 acres of land being purchased and not 20 as originally understood. Constructive fraud can be proved by a showing of breach of legal duty (like using the trust funds held for another in an investment in one's own business) without direct proof of fraud or fraudulent intent. Extrinsic fraud occurs when deceit is employed to keep someone from exercising a right, such as a fair trial, by hiding evidence or misleading the opposing party in a lawsuit. (See: constructive fraud, extrinsic fraud, intrinsic fraud, fraud in the inducement, fraudulent conveyance) damages). For further reading on fraud see Fraud.

A person claiming their dog is a services dog may also be guilty of Impersonation which is defined as the "The crime of pretending to be another individual in order to deceive others and gain some advantage."

According to a an article in the San Diego Metro News pretending your dog is a service dog when it is not is punishable by up to six month in jail and a $1,000 fine. Dog Bite Law further defines this California statute.

Many people think they are doing no harm by allowing others to believe their pet is a service dog, au contraire, my dear readers. By actively claiming you are a person with a disability when you are not (this is in fact what these people are doing)you:
  • Belittle the daily difficulties people with disabilities live with
  • Confuse the public and business community as to the purpose of a service dog.
  • Trample on a business owner's right to know that the dogs coming in are well trained,healthy, safe and necessary to their valued customers.
  • Endanger people with disabilities with true service dogs, because while you may love your Fido the standard of health care for a service dog are much more stringent than for pets. If a Service dog gets sick, infested with fleas, or any number of common dog maladies, the service dog is less able to work.
  • Weaken the standards for dogs in public opening the doors for people with dogs who may be extremely fearful or aggressive and are prone to behaviors which endanger us all.
  • Force people with real health problems such as severe allergies to share space with animals who are not groomed and bathed regularly to keep allergens to a minimum.

So before you go out and buy (0r make) that vest, collar, or backpack. Think about the repercussions both legally and ethically. Business owners and their employees may ask three questions according to the DOJ Business Brief:

1. Are you a person with a disability? (though they may not enquire as to the exact nature of the disability)

2. Is that a service animal?

3. What tasks has the animal been trained to perform?

Even if an animal is a legitimate service dog it may be denied access if (1) the animal is out of control and the animal's owner does not take effective action to control it (for example, a dog that barks repeatedly during a movie) or (2) the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

The most common reasons people pass their pets/dogs off as service animals are:

  • To gain access to a public place or service that does not normally allow pets (i.e. a store, restaurant, bus, train, plane)
  • To avoid paying the fees often associated with owning a pet or bring one with you (i.e. licence fees, transport fees, hotel pet fees)
  • To access services offered to those with service animals (i.e. reduced vet/groomer fees)
  • Because they can
Service dogs are not a perk of having a disability nor are they the latest fashion accessory. They are one of the many tools people with disabilities use to perform the everyday tasks of life just like wheelchairs, walkers, canes, medications, hearing aids, white canes and more.

1 comment:

smartdogs said...

Amen.

My dog is trained to do numerous tasks like pick up dropped items, bring me things by name, find and retrieve a ringing phone, take clothes out of the dryer and bring them to me, act as a living heating pad, hold doors open and more.

But... I'm not disabled, so he's not a service dog. I have days where I need him to do these things but we are not *yet* at a point where I need him to do them regularly or when I'm out in public. So -- he's not a service dog and I don't pretend he is.

If/when the day comes that things change I'll put a pack on him and change his job description. Until then we only go to 'dogs allowed' places to work and train -- and you know what? That's not a problem.

Unfortunately the way ADA laws are written its difficult to catch people who pass their dogs off as SDs. I'm glad PWD's rights are served but sad that it enables self-absorbed jerks to take advantage.