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

“You don’t see people faking a life-threatening illness to get a wish from Make-A-WIsh Foundation..” (Followup on Fake Service Dogs Post)


Greetings!

Before I say more.. watch this! If you click that hyperlink, you will be taken to the NBC Bay Area site. After you watch the video, you can read the article if you want but the content is almost identical in both places.

Here are my thoughts:

View more videos at: http://nbcbayarea.com.

  1. YAY NBC! Thank you so much for doing a story on this. The issue of fake service dogs unfortunately is becoming more and more of an issue. The blog that I referenced in my other post as well as the NBC News video above, both are evidence of this I think. Notice the date on the article/video (May 21, 2013). Just last month.
  2. I found “Canine Cheats,” to be a humorous but effective way of describing what is going on here. “Faking,” “cheating,” “smuggling” are three of many words that I could think of to describe the actions of these people.
  3. “It happens more often than you might think, often at the expense of the disabled.” Well, yes, this isn’t person-first language but the message is clear. It IS very much so at the expense of individuals with disabilities who rely on true service animals.
  4. I really liked the way the girl, Alex, who is in a wheelchair expressed how this affects her. Her point about our dogs being very submissive is RIGHT ON and I would have never thought to describe it like that. Our dogs WON’T fight back and as the gal said, our dogs are “at risk,” and for me personally that’s my “eyes” and therefore my independence. For her, it’s her mobility and therefore her independence. The title of this particular blog post came from a quote that this girl said in the video. She said, “You don’t see people faking a life-threatening illness to get a wish from Make-A-Wish foundation. Right? You don’t do that. You don’t take advantage of the perks of someone else’s disadvantage that way.” Oh wow she hit it right on! If that doesn’t illustrate the point, I’m not sure what will. I am really excited to read her blog.
  5. It really is unfortunately very easy to pass your dog off as a service dog. (See more info below)
  6. I absolutely LOVED the undercover conversations with members of the public in this gal’s hometown. The first man admitting that he has claimed his dog as a service dog before.. the dog that is pictured eating all that stuff off the ground (gross).. that dog’s owner who is “over it in general” referring to the fact that only service animals are allowed in some places.. the guy explaining how to “get around” the fact that they don’t have a service animal but they want to bring their dog by just claiming it’s a service dog because the staff can’t ask many questions. I found it very informative that the news reporter explained how staff can only ask two questions: 1) Is it a service animal? and 2) What is it trained to do? They can’t specifically ask about your disability, ask for the identification, asked who trained it, etc. So by law if anybody asked me the maximum I have to say is “Yes this is a service animal and she is trained to guide me.” They can’t ask if I have a visual impairment even. For me personally, I wouldn’t mind saying I am visually impaired but there are many types of service animals and some service animals are for more personal medical conditions and therefore I totally understand and respect this law. If people do give me heck, I do carry around an ID card that says we graduated from a certified guide dog school and I do have the Texas and Federal laws on guide dogs with me at all times in my wallet. However, I am not required to show these and they aren’t allowed to ask for it. I can show it at my discretion though, of course. Then the undercover conversations resume again and the lady says she doesn’t know where the bounds are, a gentleman says he flat out doesn’t listen to any rules or regulations until he “actually gets headed off for it,” and “there are too many sheep in our society,” he claims. Umm, excuse me? That SAME dude then talks about him having a few biting incidents over the years. Um, okay, NO.
  7. Allergies and disease are great reasons to restrict pets from food places. And remember, a service dog is not a “pet.” However, our dogs are really well taken care of. They are groomed frequently (mine is groomed daily), we brush their teeth, they are given monthly heartworm and flea medications, they are caught up on their vaccines. There of course is still room for some disease, but that eliminates a good amount and by grooming the dog daily you actually do eliminate a lot of allergy problems. There will still be people that are allergic, severely allergic to dogs, and while the person with the service dog isn’t required to leave or do anything about it, most service dog owners will find a compromise that works for both individuals. We know what it is like to have it rough and wouldn’t wish that upon anybody.
  8. My dog is registered under the United States Service Dog Registry because that is something someone told me about but it is not required by law or even often suggested to register your dog. The comparison of how you have to register for a blue “handicap” placard but don’t for a service dog was effective. The Americans with Disabilities Act is pretty liberal on service dog fraud. I think there is a line though because having someone judge whether you have a legitimate service dog can get tricky and cumbersome. I’m not sure what the solution is though.
  9. The news mentioned how it’s a misdemeanor in California to fake your dog as a service dog so I wanted to look it up for Texas. It IS a misdemeanor here too.. woo! The news reporter also mentioned how it IS a hard law for police to enforce. There are some really well trained pets and some really “good” mock service dog vests out there. From stories I’ve read and videos I’ve seen of fake service dogs, some really good hints are dogs that leap after other dogs, dogs that expect to eat off the table and jump on things, dogs that relieve at random, dogs that do not look like they are performing a certain task, etc. On www.servicedogs.org, the law is stated:

    Penalties for Improper Use of Assistance Animals

    1. A person who uses an assistance animal with a harness or leash of the type commonly used by persons with disabilities who use trained animals, in order to represent that his or her animal is a specially trained assistance animal when training of the type described in Section 121.002(1)(B) of this chapter has not in fact been provided, is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction shall be punished by a fine of not more than $200. (Faking that it’s an assistance animal is a criminal offense.)
  10. I like how the news reporter also brought up the point that therapy dogs, comfort dogs, and emotional distress dogs are NOT considered service dogs under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

When a non-service dog is faked as a service dog it really gives our service dogs a bad name and as I’ve said before puts a bad taste in the mouths of business owners and staff. The dogs wreck things, eat things, jump on things, bark, relieve, all things that our dogs are taught NOT to do in public and therefore make good service animals and are allowed in these places. It takes a LOT to train a service dog to be the way they are and that is why I emphasize so much about not reversing the training by petting a service dog, letting your dog confront the service dog, or faking your dog as a service dog.

So I mentioned above that it is really easy, unfortunately, to pull your dog off as a service dog. Do me a favor, Google “Fake service dog,” in the dropdown box where Google suggests searches, guess what pops up? “Fake service dog certification,” “Fake service dog vest,” and “Fake service dog tags.” Now PLEASE do not take this information and go make your dog a service dog, oh goodness please do not do that. I’m just expressing how easy nasty people have made it to get products to make your dog appear as a service dog.

To get a Service Dog ID (even though they aren’t legally allowed to ask for this so I’m not sure what the point is), one can go to: http://www.servicedogtags.com  One can also get a vest there, ID, collar, patch, certificate, etc. It’s just disgusting.

Service Dog ID

This is an example of a Service Dog vest anyone can buy online which makes their pet dog look like a service dog.
This is an example of a Service Dog vest anyone can buy online which makes their pet dog look like a service dog.

I understand loving your animal and wanting him/her to come with you. But are people really THAT LOW that they have to put individuals who are already at a disadvantage EVEN MORE at a disadvantage?

Another blogger shared with me a post she wrote on the subject. It shares the same opinion with different viewpoints. “Helper Parrots and Guide Horses” 

What are your thoughts on this? Please feel free to leave them in the comments below.