HB2992


Today, HB2992 will be discussed in Texas. The bill has been proposed to help the fake service dog issue by making it a misdemeanor if someone puts service dog identification or equipment on a dog that isn’t a service dog. When they do that, they are either misrepresenting themselves as having a disability when they don’t, or if they do have a disability, they could still be faking their undertrained or untrained dog as their service dog. I was interviewed by NBC5 Ben Russell regarding this issue. Read the article and see the video here:

http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/politics/TX-Bill-Would-Punish-Those-Who-Use-Fake-Service-Animals-419593253.html

Overall, what do I think? I love that it is being recognized as an issue by politicians and think it is a baby step toward a solution. 

I wrote a letter to Rep. Victoria Neave’s office. She is who authored this bill.

This was the letter I wrote: 

Dear Representative Victoria Neave:

My name is Jessica Naert. I am a resident of Denton, TX, a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, very involved in my community, and I am also blind. I have a wonderful guide dog, Makiko, from Guide Dogs for the Blind and am very active in the guide dog and service dog communities. 

I am very appreciative that Rep. Victoria Neave’s office has taken the issue of “fake service dogs” so seriously and is taking action against fake service dogs by proposing a bill that would make it a misdemeanor by putting some sort of identification on a pet that would identify it as a service animal, when it is not indeed a service animal. I feel this is a good “first step” towards making improvements in the great State of Texas toward diminishing this issue. 

We call it a “fake service dog” issue but really it is not the dog that is committing the offense or faking anything, it is most often a person without a disability wanting to bring their pet animal with them everywhere. Sometimes it is a person who might have a disability but doesn’t have a dog that is trained specific tasks to mitigate their disability, as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires. 

When someone is so ignorant to do this, it is harmful for us who have legitimate disabilities and have legitimate service dogs in many ways. First, most often these “fake service dogs” don’t have the level of basic obedience and public access skills, aren’t very well socialized and the environments that their owners put them in cause anxiety and bad behaviors, such as urinating or defecating in places of business or restaurants, incessantly barking, attacking others, damaging goods, etc. Often times when one of these fake service dogs enter a place of business, they put a bad taste in the business owners mouths and then when I go in the place of business with my well-trained service dog, I may be denied access because of that bad experience or experience significant harassment. This is just not fair. It also puts our service dogs at serious risk. There have been many stories of “fake service dogs” attacking a legitimate service dog. Can you imagine being blind and just hearing this dog growling and attacking your dog and often times being pretty helpless to stop it because you can’t see what’s going on? Many times this kind of trauma significantly affects that dog’s ability to be in many types of situations, especially if dogs are around, and tragically the guide dog could need to be retired due to serious trauma or anxiety, physical and/or emotional. This also of course affects the person with a disability’s emotional well-being and can affect their livelihood for years because they aren’t able to live the life they lived with their service animal. Waiting lists for many service dog organizations are years long. 

In the past several years, we have seen a steady increase in people faking a service dog. Something needs to be done and that is why I am so grateful that we are making baby steps toward resolving it for Texans. It is very difficult to resolve this issue because state codes can’t be more restrictive than federal law (the ADA). So, before I go further, I want to express my deep gratitude that your office is taking this issue so seriously and caring about Texans with disabilities who use service animals. 

I do have one concern and would like to make a few suggestions as well. My main concern – how will it be enforced? As I understand it, any time an individual has an animal in a restaurant wearing some sort of identification or equipment that indicates it is a service animal, it could possibly be flagged or reported as a possible fake. This may be what needs to happen but I also can see that this can get pretty sticky because there are many people with invisible disabilities and general society isn’t very knowledgeable of invisible disabilities, so they could automatically assume because someone doesn’t have a visible disability, they are faking. I am a person with a visual impairment but it is not immediately obvious. Would I get reported? Additionally, once it does get reported, how will it be investigated? Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, businesses can only ask the two questions: 1) Is it a service animal? 2) What tasks was the dog trained to perform to mitigate a disability? These are just a few questions I would like you all to consider regarding enforcement. Protecting service dog handlers and businesses from fake service dogs is something that has to be done and more protections need to be in place, but they also need to be careful to still protect the civil rights of people with service animals and their privacy.  

I would also like you to consider adding additional verbiage to the bill. By stating that the person would be committing a misdemeanor by falsely representing their pet as a service animal by some sort of equipment or identification, you are implying if a person without a disability brings in a dog as their “service animal”, they are faking a disability. However, I think that it would be so much stronger if it was specifically stated that faking a disability to get an animal access and/or portraying an animal as a service animal that isn’t task trained to mitigate their disability are both criminal offenses.  

Please feel free to share this as needed. 

Again, thank you for your time and for caring about something that is so important to people with disabilities. Our service dogs are so important to our livelihoods, our independence, and our freedom, and fake service dogs make it so much harder for us. 

Respectfully,

Jessica Naert, M.S., CRC

Proposed law would make ‘fake’ service dogs a crime in Colorado


This is a very relevant/important news story. Original link:  http://kdvr.com/2016/03/01/proposed-law-will-make-fake-service-dogs-a-crime-in-colorado/

Proposed law would make ‘fake’ service dogs a crime in Colorado
DENVER — A FOX31 Denver Problem Solver’s investigation is getting results at the State Capitol.
State Sen. Linda Newell and Rep. Daniel Kagan are proposing legislation that would make misrepresenting your pet as a service animal a crime in Colorado.
“We make it an offense, a criminal offense to pretend and deliberately, knowingly, fraudulently pretend that a non-service animal is a service animal,” Kagan said.
The bill was prompted by investigative reporter Heidi Hemmat’s two-part series that aired in February 2015.
RELATED: Colorado company selling service animal accessories to able-bodied pet owners
RELATED: Fake service dog investigation: Finding the people behind the lucrative online business
The Problem Solvers investigation uncovered dozens of business selling service animal vests and certifications for a fee, with no proof of disability required.
Hemmat also tracked down Colorado company Chilhowee Psychological service in Woodland Park that registers “emotional support animals.” ESAs are allowed to fly in the cabin of an airplane for free.
The investigation also exposed licensed Colorado counselor Stanford Scott Sutherland for sending letters deeming people he never met, “mentally disabled” in order for them to fly with their “emotional support animal” for free.
As a result of the report, Sutherland’s license is under investigation for possible ethics violations with the Colorado Department of Regulatory agencies. Newell was outrage by the report.
“Thank you so much for bringing this story forward because this has really given the genesis for this bill,” Newell said.
The bill is expected to be introduced at the Capitol on Wednesday.
People caught misrepresenting their pets as service animals could face misdemeanor charges and a $350 fine for the first offense, $600 for the second offense and $1,000 for the third offense.

Beautiful Article on Fake Service Dogs


This article does an excellent job at articulating why fake service dogs are very harmful. I know I post about it a lot but it’s a hot topic in my book, AND one of my biggest pet peeves!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lara-lillibridge/whats-the-harm-in-faking-_b_7935996.html

What are your thoughts? 

Service Animals in Shopping Carts


There are some animals that need to be close to their owner’s face to properly alert or complete the tasks they were trained to do to mitigate someone’s disability. Glucose alert dogs are a good example. As explained in one of my previous posts about these types of dogs from Dogs4Diabetics, the dog smells a certain scent from their handler’s mouth and then they alert. These dogs were labradors and other bigger dogs, so it wouldn’t work but I know that there are some smaller dogs that can perform this same task so it would make sense they would need to be closer to the person’s face. So, when shopping, it would kind of make sense that they could benefit from being in a shopping cart.

But to me, that’s gross, especially at a food store – where trace dog hairs, slobber, etc. could get onto the cart and then potentially get onto food. Also, a lot of fake service dog handlers put their dogs in carts and whatnot because their dog isn’t trained to properly walk along with them and ignore what they are supposed to ignore. This keeps them calmer.

Recently there was a court case, discussing this very topic: http://creeclaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/2014-01-17-17-2-Butler-v-WinCo-Amicus-Brief.pdf

This ruled that generally, service dogs are required to keep “all four on the floor.” It is generally up to the business to decide whether they will allow it or not, though. I imagine most will say they don’t allow it, for very good reason. Now, maybe in a home improvement store, I wouldn’t mind this too much, but most other stores, I would have a problem with this. For example, Bed Bath and Beyond, I wouldn’t want a dog in a shopping cart that could then quickly be re-used by someone else who has a dog allergy.. just too much room for disaster, I think.

What are your thoughts?

The fur is flying in pet-people clashes in the skies


A small dog with an "ESA" sign in a suitcase
Image found at: https://www.nsarco.com/flying-with-emotional-support.html
NOTE: This is not my image. I found it on Google. 🙂

If you’ve read my blog long enough, or know me personally, you know fake service dogs are one of my biggest pet peeves and a topic that really gets me fired up. Now, remember, I am not calling a “fake service dog” service dogs that don’t come from organizations, because there are plenty of really good owner-trained service dogs. I’m referring to pets that aren’t task trained to mitigate someone’s disability (if their owner/handler has one) or aren’t even partnered with someone with a disability.

I was scrolling along Facebook tonight, getting ready to post about how Makiko is doing (don’t worry that will come next) and then I see this title and think “hmm, I wonder what this is about!” So I open it up and my eyes immediately go to “emotional support animal” (in quotation marks, implying a fake.

Here’s the article: http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/advice/2015/07/31/flying-pets/30930717/

GASP! Excuse me – defecated in flight? Now, I get that any dog, like any human, can have stomach upset, but if you’re a true handler of a dog that assists you due to your disability, you usually have ways to help this PRIOR to boarding the flight – like getting appropriate medication or spending a good amount of time outside relieving.

“Airlines are enabling a bunch of selfish people who have no concern for the people around them,” says Kaczka, a teacher from South Plainfield, N.J.

I couldn’t have said it better. These people ARE selfish, or greedy, and they just don’t want to spend the money.. those who fake these animals, I mean. Now, I get that many airlines are likely afraid of the consequences of calling people out and there is only so much they can do if the person brings forged documentation, but I still think airlines should be a little more aggressive, have posted information about service dogs and emotional support animals, and have management that is aware and can help back them up.

I do get that some animals would have a lot of problems in the storage area of a jet, but then make alternate arrangements, don’t bring them. It’s not worth it. Now, the situation with Sam the cat mentioned in the story is sad. The owner did do the right thing by the cat.. and I feel that the airline should have been a little more tolerant.. clean up the mess and move on with it.. just like you would do if a kid pooped in his/her diaper. It’s a difficult balance though. And wow – that’s expensive for a pet transport!

The passenger who was quoted in teh story about it being a double standard that she wasn’t allowed to bring nuts on the plane, but someone was allowed to bring their medium sized non-service animal dog on the plane, was an interesting remark. I totally get that. I would be frustrated too.

When the article stated that airlines are being pushed one way by federal regulations and the other by unhappy passengers, I thought to myself “so what if they are unhappy if they are breaking the law?” Yeah, they are going to be unhappy if they can’t trick the airline into letting their beloved pet onboard and therefore not having to spend money.. but who really cares? That’s their deal. Federal regulations are in place to protect people with disabilities and their service dogs/their reasonable accommodations. It’s okay if the fakers/scammers aren’t happy if they get refused. But again, airlines and employees are just too scared of getting accused of discriminating or asking/saying things they aren’t allowed to. This is where proper training comes in, and empowerment from management who is aware and knowledgeable of their rights and the laws.

This was a very good article. And recent- posted today!

Dogs4Diabetics


Dogs4Diabetic Logo

Today at our puppy raising meeting, we had the opportunity to meet Mark Ruefenacht and hear his story about how he founded D4D – Dogs for Diabetics. We also had the opportunity to learn how these dogs were trained, the puppy raising process involved, and the partnership between D4D and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

When a GDB puppy gets phased out and decides he/she doesn’t want to become a guide dog or can’t become a guide dog for some reason, they are considered for the Career Change program, where they can become a service dog for a different organization/disability. Many dogs go to D4D. GDB and D4D have an exclusive partnership where no other guide dog school in the nation donates dogs to this organization. It’s very cool.

What I also find fascinating is that GDB is starting to research and train a few dogs to see if they can be dually trained to be a glucose/diabetic alert dog AND a guide dog. As you may know, diabetes is a leading cause of blindness. So, if a dog could alert a person with a visual impairment to high blood sugar levels and low blood sugar levels AND guide them, that would be super cool. There are a few working dogs out there like this, and they are seeing how effective they are. Dogs for handlers with vision have this thing (forgot what it’s called) around their neck and when it’s a serious low or high they pick it up to alert their handler. However, obviously this wouldn’t work for someone who is visually impaired because 1) jumping up on a blind handler to show them the alert would frequently scare the handler and 2) the handler wouldn’t probably be able to see the alert, depending on their level of vision. So the dogs that are dually trained for both diabetic alerting and guiding have a squeaking thing around their neck that they squeak to alert their handler. Very neat. At the beginning of our presentation, we actually got to see Mark’s dog alert. He had a high or low that the dog alerted too. 🙂 A random note that Mark mentioned was even if the dog gets too tired or old or isn’t able to go out in public access, they can still and do still alert at home. Very neat.

What Mark also talked about is about 40% of guide dog handlers at GDB have lost their sight due to diabetes. So, how cool would it be if these dogs could prevent this amount of blindness? Now, I personally wouldn’t trade my blindness or opportunity to work with Makiko/guide dogs for the world, but everybody has different situations and obviously preventing blindness is huge!

Mark also touched on another important note – Fake Service Dogs. As you all know, this is one of those topics I’m very passionate about – don’t fake your service dog people. Mark talked about how their are other service dog organizations that train dogs for alerting on glucose levels but they charge a LOT of money and the dogs are not that well trained. That’s a scam. These dogs are life-saving tools to help people manage a very serious medical condition and many times a lot of people have given up hope or got extremely frustrated and are LONGING for a dog.. so they pay a lot of money only to find out these dogs aren’t very good. So unfortunate.

I expect we will continue to hear more about this partnership between D4D and GDB in the upcoming year and the research associated with these cool dogs.

Here is their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dogs-4-Diabetics/7676047299
Here is their website: http://www.dogs4diabetics.com/

Blindness Awareness Month Fact of the Day (October 16): Double Whammy


If you fake your dog as a service dog, it is breaking a federal law, and in most states it is breaking a state law too. However, it is also against the law for businesses to really ask questions of the handler or “handler” (depending on if it’s a real service dog or not) to be able to find out if the dog is legitimate or not. This is what causes such a huge problem for those of us with disabilities who do rely on service dogs. Remember, by law a business (airline, restaurant staff, hotel, etc) can only ask two questions: Is this a service dog? What was this dog trained to do?

That’s it. They can’t ask any more. No papers are legally required to verify that your dog is a trained service dog, nor are any papers required to show that you have a disability. I get this, it is great for privacy reasons for individuals with disabilities, especially because many of the individuals with service dogs have invisible disabilities. However, then one may think, “Well if they have a service dog, that is a huge indicator that the individual has a disability, so why wouldn’t they want to provide identification?” Well, then that gets into privacy reasons and how much you would want a hotel staff person, restaurant staff person, etc., to really know about you. Even if it doesn’t say much, is it really their business? That just opens a whole new can of worms. However, that may be necessary one day if this fake service dog epidemic doesn’t get under control, but there is going to need to be some serious discussion and thought put into that first.

So why did I label this post “double whammy”? It’s illegal to fake your dog as a service dog, but it’s really illegal for most people to get the information to prove or learn that it is a fake service dog. The people who aren’t aware of the law or service dogs won’t know that it’s not a legitimate service dog and the people that are only a little knowledgeable may be too scared to break the law to really ask. I hope this made sense. I have posted several times about fake service dogs before so if you have any questions please feel free to go read those posts or ask here. I’d love to answer them. 🙂