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Missouri lawmakers look to crack down on ‘fake’ service dogs

POSTED 5:33 PM, APRIL 7, 2018, BY

Assistance, therapy, and service animals: many people use the words interchangeably.

The animals have made headlines a lot lately – mostly for their misuse, such as an emotional support peacock on an airline flight, or an emotional support dog that attacks people.

Missouri lawmakers wants to crack down on those fake service animals.

Nineteen states, including Kansas, have laws that criminalize passing off pets as service animals. Missouri would like to join those ranks.

It happens at crowded places, and loud places. On Saturday, Gail’s Harley Davidson happened to be both. It is also where Battle Buddy set up its booth.

The Peculiar-based organization trains service dogs for veterans. Many have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  It’s not something visible; at least, not as visible as Lucy the pit bull.

Sherri Settle is the lead trainer for Battle Buddy.

“The definition of a service dog is a dog that is well-behaved and that performs a task for its handler,” she explained.

“It happens,” said Settle of fake service dogs, “and it makes legitimate service animals look bad.”

She continued, “you can get a vest anywhere. You can put it on your dog, and you can pose your dog as a service dog.”

House lawmaker Christy Sommer (R – St. Charles) was in Jefferson City this week, and said, “people are taking untrained pets into public areas and telling people, ‘this is a service dog.’ What happens is the dog that’s not trained, in some situations, they’ll panic, they’ll attack the people around them.”

HB 2031 proposed would make faking a service dog a misdemeanor, punishable by up to fifteen days in jail, or up to 6 months for repeated violations.  Battle Buddy worked with Sommer on a previous version of the bill, but not the current version.

On Friday, Battle Buddy President Mark Heimkes said, “while we commend Mo. State Representative Chrissy Sommer and the State of Missouri for their efforts in trying to address the ongoing problem with fake service dogs, we believe that HB 2031 does not adequately address the ability to separate a fake service dog from a legitimate service dog without placing an undue burden on people with service dogs.”

Settle, also of Battle Buddy, explained the burden.

“These dogs are medical tools,” she said.  “So it’s not like you’re going to come up to someone in a wheel-chair, or with a cane, and say ‘oh, is that a real wheelchair?  is that a real cane? Do you really need that?’  Just because it’s a disability you can’t see doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

Many people use the words service and therapy and emotional support dog interchangeably, Wayside Waifs has a one-page breakdown of the differences.

According to Battle Buddy and the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is no certification or searchable database for service animals.  “There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act states “In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.”

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