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Service Dog Scammers Cause Irreparable Harm to Those Who Need Help Most

While the thought of sneaking a small companion animal into a store or restaurant under the guise of a service dog might not seem like much of a crime to some, it actually causes great harm to the reputation and operation of service dogs in general.

Service dog regulations can differ between states, and a new designation for “emotional support dogs” has created a gray area as to the level of training being a service dog entails. There is no law requiring the dogs to be certified by Assistance Dogs International, Service Dogs for America, or any other organization for that matter. The Americans with Disabilities Act offers guidance with its definition for a service dog — “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability” — but there is no federal oversight, leaving the system open to abuse.

Service Dog Central reports that there are 100,000 to 200,000 task trained service dogs in the U.S. But off the books, that number is growing, thanks to replica certificates, ID cards, service animal patches and more can be ordered online for around $70.

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The practice of representing service dogs by under-trained animals has led business owners, legislators, and the public in general to view the role of service dogs under a cynical lens. A business may not refuse entry to a service dog, but the US Department of Justice does permit two questions to be asked of the owner:

  1. Is this a service dog required because of disability?
  2. What is it trained to do to mitigate the disability?

The ADA excludes comfort, companionship, emotional support, or therapy animals in its definition of a service dog. That hasn’t stopped pet owners from seeking false certifications for their animals, though, and state lawmakers are taking notice.

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Colorado is one of the most recent to enact laws regarding the misrepresentation of service animals, but the line between punishing those who break the law and making things harder for those with necessary service animals is a fine one.

“People with disabilities legitimately get companion animals for housing. So the little fluffy white dog you see is helping them get up in the morning. It’s giving them a reason to live,” Alison Daniels, director of legal services for Disability Law Colorado, told the Daily Beast. “The problem is, people have this companion animal so they think ‘I can take this animal to the grocery store or the movies.'”

After a woman in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin was asked to leave a McDonald’s with her therapy kangaroo, Jimmy, the service animal laws there were amended to include only dogs and miniature horses.

In 2011, Massachussetts ruled that only a dog can be a service animal, while any species can perform the duties of an emotional support animal.

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Perhaps the most overlooked element of service dog fraud is not the harm it poses for those who rely on service dogs, or the businesses that accommodate them, but the dogs themselves. Under-trained animals may not be used to the crowded spaces of restaurants or grocery stores, and may often act out in unexpected ways, unsure of how to handle the situation. This creates an unsafe environment for anyone around.


As the definition of a service animal is defined in each state, a large demographic of Americans — military veterans — are still fighting for the chance of companionship and therapy only a service dog can provide.

The VA’s U.S. Veteran Service Dog Program covers the cost of service dogs only in cases of physical disability. Dogs for mobility, hearing, or sight are covered, but psychiatric issues like PTSD are not. The VA claims that there is not enough evidence to show that the dogs were efficacious despite countless studies to the contrary. Follow this link or hit the “Next” button to tell the VA to change the U.S. Veteran Service Dog Program to cover service dogs for any troop that needs one!

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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and world traveler with a background in journalism, graphic design, and French pastry. He likes to learn new things whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, folk music and coffee.