Does my dog comfort me? Most definitely. Does she, in a sense, guide me? I believe so. Does she serve me as not only a loyal pet, but a confidant, friend and companion? Yes. But, is Luna a service dog? No.
She’s lovingly licked my tear-stained cheek in times of grief, growled at strangers (pizza delivery guys) lurking at our door, eaten our tax forms, and filled our lives with an undeniable joy since we brought her home approximately six months ago. I inarguably feel better when she is around which is why we run together, watch TV together and play on the beach together. Yet still, a small black labrador who holds more resemblance to a child in our life than an animal, is just that, which is why we stay true to the law in acting as her owners.
"Fraudulent service dogs impact the human beings with disabilities whom these animals were specifically trained to help."
There is a difference between Luna and that yellow lab who helps a familiar young man with oversized sunglasses cross the busy street. There is a difference. And my husband and I are aware of this difference. More than that, we are conscious of who it harms when dog owners ignore the Penal Code and fake their pets as service animals while (literally) sniffing out fine cheeses at Saturday’s artisan Farmer’s Market. Fraudulent service dogs impact the human beings with disabilities whom these animals were specifically trained to help.
Such fraud is rife, especially in the Bay Area. The root of this problem, I believe, is that people do not think it’s a big deal to slap on a fake vest and call their teacup chihuahua a service dog. Somewhere between the Farmer’s Market and Nordstrom the line that divides Guide Dogs for the Blind and the pomeranian that Mr. Roberts’ new girlfriend likes to carry around in her purse got blurred.
The thing is, it is a big deal. It’s a big deal because it directly affects those people with serious disabilities who need their service dogs, as outlined by the U.S. Department of Justice, to do special tasks that their owners could not do without their assistance. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows specified animals to be in areas where other pets are not in order to accommodate often severe disabilities, i.e., amputee, blind and mentally ill individuals who need these animals’ help in order to function.
"I have been kicked out of businesses because employees think I'm an imposter."
Peter Morgan, is one of the individuals seeking to bring about change in a culture of fake service dogs that is getting out of control. Peter suffers from a spinal disorder that prevents him from bending over without pain. His service dog, Echuka, is trained to pick up items Peter drops to stop him from getting hurt. But service dog fraud is making it difficult for Peter to keep Echuka with him in places is most needs support.
"In the last few years, the questions and the looks I get have radically changed," Peter says. "Now wherever I go, I see fraudulent service dogs. I have been kicked out of businesses because employees think I'm an imposter."
Falsifying a badge for your untrained retriever not only disrupts businesses and their clientele, but adversely affects those with disabilities who actually need their service animals to live their lives, which is why California made it a criminal offense to fraudulently present a regular pet as a service dog back in 1994. Since then, other states have been following suit. Most recently, on July 1st, 2015, Florida passed a similar law, highlighting the fact that this is a national, and even international problem.
"... punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both"
Masquerading Fido as a service dog just so you can bring him on your trip to Whole Foods has serious consequences, as outlined in the California Penal Code:
365.7. Knowing and fraudulent representation as owner or trainer of guide, signal or service dog; penalty
(a) Any person who knowingly and fraudulently represents himself or herself, through verbal or written notice, to be the owner or trainer of any canine licensed as, to be qualified as, or identified as, a guide, signal, or service dog, as defined in subdivisions (d), (e), and (f) of Section 365.5 and paragraph (6) of subdivision (b) of Section 54.1 of the Civil Code, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.
(b) As used in this section, “owner” means any person who owns a guide, signal, or service dog, or who is authorized by the owner to use the guide, signal, or service dog.
So not only is it a big deal because of who is being adversely affected; it’s a big deal because if you violate the law in these circumstances, you could do jail time.
A local non-profit has been leading the fight for better enforcement of California’s Penal Code. Canine Companions for Independence, with its national headquarters based in Santa Rosa, is an organization that betters the lives of those who actually need service dogs by attentive training of animals and an ongoing support system. By starting a petition to protect the rights of people who legitimately need service dogs, a petition aiming to stop service dog fraud, Canine Companions has begun promoting this important change in our society.
As a dog owner, I sympathize with the notion of bringing your dog with you wherever you go. But as a law-abiding citizen and pro-active member of society, I know when to leave Luna at home with a bone (or more aptly, a bully stick). Whether we will see greater enforcement of the law remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that fake service dogs are having a negative impact on society and action is needed. I respect what true service dogs are able to do for people who cannot do it all on their own and more needs to be done to protect these dogs and their owners. I also have no desire to do time behind bars or face a hefty fine. Do you?
Content prepared by Alicia Parry
Copyright 2015 Alicia Parry
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