Leave the job to the professionals.

By Austin Cannon
October 29, 2020
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Credit: FatCamera / Getty

Add Jacksonville, Fla., to the list of state and local governments that are cracking down on the fraudulent use of service dogs. 

According to Fox 30/CBS 47, a proposed new ordinance would make the use of a fake service dog a second-degree misdemeanor. Anyone found guilty could be sentenced to 30 hours of community service.

“It makes it illegal to lie and say that your pet is a service dog,” City Councilman Rory Diamond, also the CEO of a service-dog nonprofit, tells the TV station. “Also, we create an entire [plan] to protect people who have service dogs that are real.”

Fake service dogs are enough of a problem that 31 states have banned “the fraudulent representation of pets as service animals,” according to the Legal and Historical Animal Center at Michigan State University. Five other states have laws that are similar. 

On the surface, the fake service dogs can seem like simply a dumb excuse to try to get your normal companion animal into a store or another place where dogs are usually prohibited. They can be more problematic, however, for the real service dogs. 

The Associated Press reported that in 2016, 77 percent of graduates from Canine Companions for Independence, a service dog training center in California, had encountered a fake or out-of-control service dog. More than half of them said the fake dogs had in some way distracted their service dogs, including snapping or biting at them. 

So leave the job to the pros. Don’t just buy a vest and leash off the internet and fake it. 

“You may go into a restaurant, and see somebody with their ‘service dog,’ sitting on the chair next to them eating at the table,” says Greg Wells, a veteran with a service dog who spoke with the Jacksonville TV station. “We don’t allow that with a legitimate service dog. A legitimate service dog is to be unobtrusive, out of the way, barely noticeable. So, I can live a normal lifestyle and not feel that people are staring at me.”

In Jacksonville, the ordinance would also protect people who need help from legitimate service animals, stating that anyone who interferes with or discriminates against people and their service animals is also committing a second-degree misdemeanor and could also be sentenced to 30 days of community service.

The proposal also bans housing discrimination on the basis of the potential renter having a service or emotional support animal.