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The Sensitive Issue of Fraudulent Service Dogs

New York recently made it unlawful for any person to misrepresent an animal as a service dog. Approximately 19 other states have enacted similar laws. It is apparently easy to obtain fake credentials certifying people’s pets as service dogs because there is no official certification for animal training. However, pets do not behave the same as service animals and end up making it harder for disabled individuals with service animals. For the disabled, it has been compared to a non-disabled person parking in a handicapped parking spot.

Individuals with disabilities often rely on specially trained service animals that help them fully participate in all aspects of their lives. These dogs may aid the blind to see, alert a diabetic when his or her blood sugar goes too high or too low, and detect the onset of an epileptic seizure. These animals also provide therapeutic support to individuals with anxiety or PTSD. Only service animals must be allowed by law in places of public accommodation.

However, it is a challenge for businesses to know which animals they must allow and which they can exclude. The Americans with Disabilities Act only permits limited questioning of individuals who enter public areas with service animals. A business may ask whether the service animal is required because of a disability. It may also ask what work or task the service animal has been trained to perform. The Department of Justice’s guidance on this issue precludes any questions about the nature of someone’s disability or asking for a demonstration of the animal’s specific tasks.