Should misrepresenting service animals be illegal? One Arizona senator says yes, and is proposing a new law to punish those who do.
Fraudulent service animals have become increasingly more visible, and now, a newly proposed law in Arizona is seeking to penalize pet owners who misrepresent their animals as such.
According to the proposal, judges would be able to impose a fine up to $250 on anyone who fraudulently misrepresents an animal as a service animal or service animal in training to an operator of any business or recreation site, including buses, taxis, and ambulances.
Owners of service animals have several specific rights broadly governed by 3 acts: the American Disabilities Act, the Air Carrier Access Act, and the Fair Housing Act. The proposed law would require an individual to produce proof that his or her animal had been trained for an impairment covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
If proof cannot be produced, the business owner can file a complaint and have the issue heard by a court of law. Current Arizona law prohibits requiring identification for service animals, which means business owners still cannot refuse patrons even if they fail to produce proper identification for their service animals.
Arizona Senator John Kavanaugh proposed this law because he believes there are more fraudulent service animals being brought into businesses than legitimate service animals.
"I see it everywhere,'' Kavanagh said. "Everyone sees it, and it's getting out of control.''
Kavanagh isn’t the only senator proposing bills to crack down on fake service animals. Michigan Senator Peter MacGregor recently introduced a bill that would punish those falsely passing their pets off as service animals or emotional support animals with 90 days in jail, up to a $500 fine, and 30 days of community service.
But while some lawmakers argue against fraudulent service animals, not everyone believes a problem exists. "Most people aren't going to lie and make up a disability and make up what their animal is trained to do in response,” said Sarah Kader, attorney for the Arizona Center for Disability Law.
Kader believes the proposed law in Arizona could initiate numerous problems of its own. Under current law, business owners cannot demand to see the identification of service animals and can only ask if the animal is a service animal and what tasks the pet performs—not what the owner’s disability is. She said she is concerned about what would happen to those with legitimate disabilities who just simply can’t produce proof for their service animal.
"It really punishes the people with disabilities for the actions of a very few,” she said.
Still, Kavanagh strongly believes this bill is much needed throughout the state, and that there is nothing wrong with requiring people to prove to a judge that their animals have been properly trained for a specific disability.
"We're going to whittle away at an abuse and, hopefully, take the heat off legitimate service animals that are trained and are helping people,'' he said.