Some pet owners get fake IDs for their ‘service animals’
It’s not hard to get fake IDs for untrained dogs that people pass off as service animals in restaurants and stores and on airplanes, which angers truly disabled people.
Owners and trainers of service dogs are increasingly angry at pet owners who pass their animals off as service dogs by using phony credentials.
The imposters go to the Internet to buy vests, ID cards and certificates for their dogs. The deception allows their pets to live in restricted housing, accompany them into restaurants and hotels or fly free in airplane cabins rather than in cargo holds.
“I don’t want to say it’s a scam, but it is a scam,” said Nick Kutsukos, 72, who runs the Elite K9 Academy in Jupiter and has trained service dogs for 40 years.
People who fake a disability and/or pretend their pet is a service animal risk at least a fine or, in extreme cases, federal fraud charges.
Getting certification is as easy as filling out a form online, sending in your money and perhaps a photograph of your dog.
You can pay from $20 to $300. An owner gets a specially marked dog vest or collar, dog identification tags or ID cards, a certificate, training DVDs, information CDs and other official-looking items.
But none of it is required by law.
One website recommends annual certification, while another offers increasingly expensive bronze, silver, gold and platinum packages.
“There is no certification required, so there’s no such thing as a legitimate [document],” said Toni Eames, president of the Michigan-based International Association of Assistance Dog Partners.
“Anyone who sells you a certification is a scammer,” said Eames, who also is blind and has her own guide dog.
Given the time and money invested in training service dogs, disabled users and trainers are angered by those who buy or sell worthless service-dog items online for imposter pets.
“I’m condemning the people who are irresponsible and force people into cheating,” Eames said.
Kutsukos, whose service dog helps with his seizures, said the fake certifications “make it difficult for people with legitimate service dogs to do things.”
A restaurant manager, for example, might think twice about allowing a legitimate service dog inside because of a bad experience with a fake service dog that barked or misbehaved.
The best way to tell whether a service dog is legitimate is to observe its behavior, authorities say. Service dogs won’t appear restless, and they won’t jump or bark. They will obey the disabled owner’s commands, perform tasks and lie down passively where instructed.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, protects the rights of disabled people, including their use of service animals. But there was confusion when monkeys, cats, ferrets and other critters were utilized to help people with special needs function in public places such as restaurants and hotels.