This article was published in The Stylist, a student newspaper of The College at Brockport.  Staff writer: Gena Korn (gkorn1@brockport.edu).  Published Tuesday, October 22, 2013.

dogs

Real, trained service animals provide help for people with disabilities and are extremely well-trained. However, people sneaking their household pets into restaurants and other public buildings under the guise of service animals creates problems for everyone, including people with real disabilities.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) website: “Service animals are defined as dogs (and sometimes miniature horses) that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” The ADA goes on to explain in further detail where a service animal is allowed, how it must be controlled and so on.

The rules pertaining to service animals are put in place for a reason. It seems that some people, however, have been taking a law that is meant to help the disabled and twisting it to their own advantage by using fake service animals.

They are strapping a vest with a service animal insignia to their untrained house pets and then, under the guise of the ADA, walking them into restaurants and other businesses where they wouldn’t normally be able to take them.

This is not only abusing the system, but it is also a federal crime. The problem is that, due to privacy restrictions, it is very hard to prove that a dog isn’t a trained service animal. When a person with a supposed service animal walks into a business they may only be asked two things: “Is your animal a service animal?” and “What is he trained to do for you?”

Legally, no other inquiries may be made. If someone really wanted to, it wouldn’t be hard to buy a vest or harness with the necessary insignia and make up a believable story without having to fake a noticeable disability.

If someone does that, however, they still can’t fake their dog’s training, or lack thereof. According to ABC News, “There is a big difference in the behavior of real service dogs and impostors inside businesses, experts said. A true service dog becomes nearly invisible. Pets might bark, urinate, sniff, scratch and eat off the floor.”

Trained service animals know that when they are wearing their service vests or harnesses, they are working. They do not get to play or misbehave. They are doing their job. When the vest or harness comes off, they return to the life of a normal pooch with all of the drooling, running and barking that comes with it.

A normal house pet does not have that distinction. Whether the vest is on or off, they will do what they always do, and these untrained dogs can create trouble. They could trip a waiter at an eatery or bite a curious child at Walmart.

They don’t know any better. But their owners do.

So why do people do this? My best guess is that some people either aren’t diagnosed with a disability or are having trouble getting diagnosed with a disability. They may also not want a new animal because they want their own dog to be their service animal or they can’t afford a service animal.

Or maybe they are just spoiled rotten people who think that they should be allowed to take their precious pooches wherever they want regardless of regulations or laws.

So, what should be done with these fakers? I believe a fine would be the best form of punishment. However, I’d like to see people do community service relevant to their crime, and be forced to work free at the restaurant they lied to or perhaps volunteer for a fundraiser for disabled people. Maybe that would drive the message home that cheating the ADA is wrong.

There is discussion on how to stop the problem before it gets worse. Some suggest relaxing privacy laws to allow for further inquiry while others suggest not bothering with the problem at all. Some people claim it would be difficult to enforce with few police available for such minor issues.

I, however, like one suggestion I heard: carding. If people were to have to carry a card with them that stated their service animal’s information, perhaps with a scanning code for some kind for verification, I think that we might just see fewer frauds — at least until someone figured out how to fake those, too.

But by that point, I’d say that the person would have bigger problems on their hands than sneaking their favorite pet into a diner.