Fake 'Service Dogs' Unleash Abuse by Non-Disabled New Yorkers - Legally Weird
Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

Fake 'Service Dogs' Unleash Abuse by Non-Disabled New Yorkers

Move over disabled line cutters, fake "service dogs" are the newest and most fashionable way for the entitled to pimp their status.

New York City has been hit by a glut of phony "service dog" tags which can be purchased online. The tags allow "ordinary" dogs to enter restaurants, grocery stores, and malls, despite those businesses' "no-pets" policies, reports The New York Post.

So what, if anything, is being done to curb the use of fake service dogs?

Service Animals

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) delineates requirements for an animal to be considered a "service dog" and limits them to dogs who can do work or tasks for people with:

  • PTSD,
  • Seizures,
  • Wheelchairs, or
  • Visual or auditory impairment (e.g., blind or deaf).

Because of a combination of federal law and state and local public accommodation laws, private businesses that are open to the public cannot discriminate against or refuse service to disabled persons who use a service dog for that disability.

Fake 'Therapy Dog' Tags and ID Cards

However, the system for identifying service animals is unregulated by the ADA. So state governments have taken up the cause, providing a patchwork of differing requirements for licensed service animals.

Latching on to suckle at the lifeblood of these laws' good intentions are the fine purveyors of fake dog tags emblazoned with words like "service animal" or "therapy dog." The tags give the false impression that the dog must be allowed in retail stores under state and municipal law.

Under NYC's laws, the dog's owner must present documentation for the service animal upon request. But one NYC restaurateur told the Post that even without official paperwork, "for five bucks, you order a patch off eBay, and it works 90 percent of the time."

Even more insidious are ID cards provided by the U.S. Service Dog Registry, a governmental-sounding but ultimately private agency that will register a dog as a service animal for free without providing any certification or proof of a dog's training or the owner's disability.

Are Fake Tags Illegal?

The ADA does not require dogs or their owners to display a specific form of identification, so there is no specific federal law regarding forging or copying a legitimate service dog tag.

However, passing off a "therapy dog" tag from eBay as one that was issued by a New York government agency with intent to defraud may land fake service dog owners behind bars for forgery.

Until more rigorous regulation of service dogs is implemented, fake service dogs will likely continue to infiltrate your favorite restaurants and coffee shops.

Related Resources: