Terri Krake, whose dog is trained to react to her seizures, thinks there should be a law against people who pretend their pets are service animals so they can take them wherever they want.
A bipartisan group of Minnesota lawmakers thinks so too. House and Senate legislation could make it a misdemeanor offense for someone to use identification, like a vest, cape or paperwork, that falsely claims a pet is a service animal.
Krake and other service dog owners told their stories to House and Senate panels this week. She calls these impostor dogs “fakers,” with no resemblance to her dog Brody, who took two years and $25,000 to train and has saved her life several times.
“People in Minnesota don’t want to be separated from their dogs,” Krake, of Minneapolis, said. “So for $6, they can go online and get a vest, and bring a bark-y, lunge-y dog into a store. And then I come in behind them and it makes my life more difficult.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires businesses and public agencies to allow people to bring their service animals with them. There’s a strict definition for service animals: They are individually trained to assist someone with a disability.
The frustrations of people like Krake have fueled conversations nationally about what policies states and businesses should enact. So have stories of people attempting to bring pets into places where they’re not allowed.
One woman tried to bring her peacock on a United Airlines flight. Another felt compelled to flush her hamster down the toilet when Spirit Airlines told her she could not bring it on the plane. Both said their pets were emotional support animals, which do not go through training like service animals.
“You see people bringing their kangaroo into McDonald’s or emotional support peacock onto an airplane or whatever it may be, and that’s really unfortunate,” the Senate bill’s author, Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, said at a bipartisan news conference on the issue. “It really impacts people in the disability community that really have real needs with service animals.”
About 20 states have adopted similar legislation to what Minnesota is considering.
Alan Peters, executive director of service dog training company Can Do Canines, hopes Congress takes note and passes federal regulations. But he said it doesn’t seem to be a priority yet at the federal level, so states must take steps to prevent fake service dogs.
At a House committee meeting Thursday, both DFL and GOP representatives agreed that they needed to take action. But the different approaches in the House and Senate bills must be reconciled.
The Senate bill says a first offense is a petty misdemeanor, which does not constitute a crime and would just come with a fine. A second misrepresentation would warrant a misdemeanor charge. But the House bill from Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston, says the first offense would be a misdemeanor.
It can be nearly impossible to figure out whether someone is lying about their dog. Service dog owners do not have certificates or proof that their dog has been trained, apart from the animal’s good behavior.
Therefore, Ron Elwood, supervising attorney at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, said he doesn’t believe anyone has been prosecuted in other states that already have this law on in the books. He suggested legislators take a different approach. Instead of creating a new crime, he said businesses should be able to get people and their impostor pets to leave by using the state’s trespassing statute.
Eichorn does not believe that would address the problem.
“You end up in a situation where that individual who is faking their service animal can trespass at six, eight, 10 different places and never end up in trouble,” he said. “Then are we really solving the issue at hand here? I think not.”
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044