Seen a dog wearing a service vest sitting on its owner's lap in a restaurant? Or barking the way a pet dog is wont to yip?
More dogs may be posing as service animals in order to gain access to cafes or schools or wherever their owners would like them to go. Canine Companions for Independence, a service dogs training program, is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to stop the online sale of fake service dog certification products.
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Dog owners can buy "disguises" - vests, patches, papers - online for $65; there are no federal laws that require ID for service dogs, so businesses can't ask owners to display proof that their dog is a service animal. The U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives people with disabilities the right to be accompanied by a trained service dog in privately-owned businesses.
Compounding the problem, some service dogs look or act like pets.
"We don't have any clue how many fake service dogs there are because a lot of the real service dogs look like fake service dogs," Joanne Shortell, an advocate for service animals, told National Public Radio. "A lot of people assume when someone walks in with a toy poodle in their arms with a little tutu on it that it can't be a service dog, but it can."
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Some states have laws against pets posing as service animals. In California, for example, owners of fake service dogs can be fined or imprisoned.
"This is jeopardizing people like me who really need a service dog. It's jeopardizing our ability to be a working team out in public," Marcie Davis, founder of International Assistance Dog Awareness Week, told CBS Chicago.
Photo: Guide dogs in Norway. Credit: Wikipedia