Is that service dog legit?

idcardMy Seeing Eye dog Whitney is carded every time we enter the lobby of the Chicago high-rise where my doctor’s office is. Humans who walk into that building are required to show an ID card, and they also ask for an ID to prove that the superbly-trained 5-year-old Golden Retriever/Labrador Cross who guides me through a revolving door, into their lobby, around their desk and onto the elevator is legit.

There is currently no national or universal certification process for trained service animals. It is not illegal for a person to ask for an ID card for a service dog, but a person using a service dog cannot be required to show any kind of certification or identification in order to have a service dog accompany them. This is one of the most misunderstood pieces of ADA regulation about service animals.

The ADA allows business owners and the like to ask two, and only two, things when questioning whether a service dog is legit or not:

  1. whether the animal is, in fact, a service animal
  2. what tasks the animal is trained to perform

Beth and Whitney (photo courtesy of WBEZ)The security guard at my doctor’s office building isn’t aware of those rules, though. He told me they’d all been told to ask for certification when anyone comes into the building claiming the dog at their side is a service dog. “A lot of them fake it,” the guard said with a shrug. I wasn’t surprised. Let’s face it. It’s not hard to tie a vest on a dog, and it’s pretty easy to get fake certification for a dog as well. It’s not easy to live with a significant disability, however, and faking that you have one is an insult to everyone who really needs their dog, and to the airlines, hotels, restaurants and stores who are trying to do what’s right.

That’s why I’ve taken interest in a bill going through the House and Senate in the state of Florida. The proposed bill would make it a misdemeanor to pass off a pet as a service animal in Florida as well as making it a misdemeanor to harass a person with disabilities about their need for a service animal. The House version of the bill passed with a unanimous vote in late March, and the Senate version is going through committees now. If it passes, interfering with a person with a disability and their service animal in Florida would be a second-degree misdemeanor, carrying penalties of up to 60 days in jail, up to $500 in fines and 30 hours of community service for an organization that serves people with disabilities or another entity, at the discretion of a judge. The same crime and penalties would apply to pet owners who lie about having a disability and falsely claim that their pet is a service animal. It’ll be interesting to see where this bill ends up.

In the meantime, back here in Illinois, my dog Whitney does have an i.d. card. The Seeing Eye provides i.d. cards to all its graduates, and it isn’t much trouble to fetch Whitney’s ID out of my wallet, so I don’t put up a fit. When asked at my doctor’s office, I just show the card, command Whitney to lead me forward, and we proceed to the elevator. I’m just sorry that fakers have brought us to the point where legislators are being forced to spend time on something they shouldn’t have to bother with.


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