By Guest Blogger Ann Chiappetta, M.S.
There is trouble out there in service dog land. The nationwide publicity about pet owners passing off their dogs as service animals has become a current event. To be more specific, there is an epidemic of pet owners trying to pass their dogs off as working dogs. Did you know that, with just a minimum of information, you can go online and purchase a vest and fake ID for your pet stating it is an assistance animal?
Legitimate service and guide dog handlers are at risk of being turned away from public places because of this epidemic. As a guide dog handler, I know this problem firsthand. For example, businesses are caught in-between following the laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities and their service dogs, while also not having a clear way of identifying illegitimate service animals.
One organization that is spearheading a campaign to increase public awareness about this issue is Guide Dog Users, Inc. (GDUI). As the nation’s leading consumer and advocacy organization of people with visual impairments working with guide dogs as their primary means of mobility, GDUI hopes to educate the general public about this problem.
As a dog guide user, I am concerned about how the growing number of pet owners who misrepresent their pet dogs as service animals in order to gain access to public places, or to avoid pet fees, will adversely affect me. Currently, business owners are faced with trying to identify pets posing as service animals, a problem which is only mounting.