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Dog with tongue out

 Service dog fraud threatens real service dog owner's independence

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) – You can buy them on-line and then take your pet wherever you go. People are actually ordering service dog vests for their pooches and pretending to need them in public places. It’s doggie deception.

Many Americans treat their dogs nearly like children. They buy them glittery collars, dress them in clothes and even push them in strollers! But, a new trend has pet owners disregarding “no pets allowed” signs and finding loop holes to bring their dogs wherever they go.

ABC 4 went undercover to see what kind of reaction Natalie Kauffman and her dog Libby would get with a mail-ordered dog vest. First, Natalie and Libby entered a café, then a Utah book store and finally a busy downtown restaurant during prime lunch hour.

“I thought it was kind of cool. They help a lot of people,” said the bookstore owner Peter Marshall.

In each place Libby and Natalie walked around, ordered food and drink and never got asked a single question. But, this fraud is creating big issues for people like Tim Daynes and Becky Anderson. They both rely on their dogs for independence.

“The simple pleasure of walking from my office to the grocery store and back,” said Anderson who has Retinitis Pigmentosa and is legally blind.

“I could not get into my house without him!” said Tim Daynes. Daynes was paralyzed when he was just 16 years old when he dove in Lake Powell and broke his neck. He is now a C-5 quadriplegic. Both Daynes and Anderson are concerned over what abusing service dog privileges could mean for their future.

“Sad, frustrated,” said Anderson.

“If you get a dog that for some reason would bite someone. As a business owner I don't blame them. I wouldn't want to see that happen,” said Daynes.

Certified service dogs are trained for two years mostly from the time they’re puppies. There is a very low graduation because the standards to become a service dog are so high.

“I can take him in to public and know that he's going to behave himself,” said Daynes.

This is something Daynes is sure about but when a non-certified dog like Libby goes into a business, how they react to stimuli is unpredictable. Anderson’s bad experience was with a flight attendant.

“She was convinced that my guide was going to hurt her,” said Anderson.

The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it very difficult to questions someone over their needs for their service dog. For some, the liability of digging into the specifics isn’t worth the risk. Basically, if you’re prepared to lie there’s a good chance you’ll get away with it.

“Maybe there needs to be a law where the pack has to have some sort of license on it,” said Daynes.

The service pack, regardless of what dog was wearing, passed for Utah standards. But, with some education, awareness and maybe even policy changes Daynes and Anderson hope to keep their future of independence in tact.

Advocates against wrongful vest use say it’s important to remember that it’s against the law to use the vests improperly and you could be prosecuted.

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