Cracking down on phony service dogs is becoming quite a thing in the U.S.
For decades, dogs have been banned guests in grocery stores, restaurants and airplanes. We’ve been perpetually compelled to leave our fuzzy friends behind, locking them within our walls while we explore the world without them.
But not long ago, an exception to nearly every establishment’s dog embargo caught the public’s attention. If our beloved puppers simply became certified service dogs, they could accompany us on all our daily adventures.
Since this widespread discovery, dogs dressed in service uniforms have been stepping paw in all kinds of new places. Sometimes, their owners jump through the hoops of lawfully registering their doggie, donning them with a vest and ID that exhibits their legally legitimate status. Just as often, however, dogs’ humans will simply purchase fake certification, ID cards and vests from unauthorized online vendors.
As late night host Stephen Colbert confessed of his pet pug, "My dog isn't really a service dog. I just bought him a vest online so I could take him to the movies with me.”
While Colbert may mock the silliness of service dog deception, plenty of others are not approaching the situation with the same good-humored stance. Businesses, veterans, and disabled dog-owners complain that fraudulent pooches harm those who actually rely on genuine support dogs. These critics claim that because so many public spaces are teeming with furry phonies, they now need to regularly prove to shops that their pups are validated service dogs.
As a former U.S. soldier lamented to Colorado's 9News, "There is nothing worse than pissing off a combat veteran who fought for his country, and now he has to fight to be able to go inside of a local grocery store," he said. The vet became so exasperated with fake service animals that he personally launched a Facebook page to expose impersonators.
State legislators are also taking action against deceitful doggies. Nineteen states have already outlawed dressing up uncertified dogs as support pets, making the infraction a misdemeanor in certain cases.
Come January 1, Colorado is upping the ante, charging larger punitive fines for misrepresenting a pet as a service animal and allowing landlords more authority to challenge a service dog’s legitimacy. This marks state representatives’ second attempt to apply harsher penalties, as the first attempt to further criminalize animal service fraud failed last legislative session.
As the problem proliferates, bogus doggos are becoming simpler to spot. For example, teacup poodles, chihuahuas and Saint Bernards, while periodically seen sporting vests and IDs, are typically not trained as service animals. Instead, traditional service dog breeds more often include German Shepherds, Labradors or Golden Retrievers. In addition, trained service dogs would never bark in public, be aggressive toward other dogs or people, eat off restaurant tables or ride lazily inside shopping carts.
As much as we’d adore having our fuzzy buddies always by our side, the grievances of our country’s disabled veterans should make us think twice about bringing our chihuahuas into Chipotle. Even more unsettling than the trouble it brings to authentic service animal owners is the burden you bring upon your own pupper. When you dress up your dog as a phony support pooch, you make your sweet, lovable puppy look like a dishonest punk.
And spoiling your dog’s good reputation has got to be the gravest sin on god’s green earth.