Passing Off Pet as Service Animal Akin to ‘Fraud,’ Says Legislator Pushing New Bill

(File photograph)

Ellen Leigh was out with her service dog, Ricky, last month, when another dog wearing a working-dog vest tried to bite him, forcing the duo to quickly turn in the opposite direction.

Leigh, an Arlington resident who uses a motorized wheelchair, told lawmakers on Tuesday that this was one of many encounters she’s had with pets whose owners misrepresent them as service dogs.

While legitimate service dogs like Ricky are bred for their work and trained to be non-aggressive, Leigh said, pets without special training can become stressed in hectic, public environments and become aggressive, creating a hazard for service dogs and the people who rely on their assistance.

According to the State House News Service, a bill filed by Rep. Kimberly Ferguson would make it a civil infraction to knowingly misrepresent a dog as a service dog or service-dog-in-training “for the purpose of obtaining any rights or privileges afforded to a person with a disability requiring the assistance of a service dog.”

Violators would be subject to a fine of up to $500, 30 hours of community service at an organization serving people with disabilities, or both, for a first offense. The penalty would increase for subsequent offenses.

“The bottom line is, this is a bill about fraud,” said Ferguson, a Holden Republican.

Ferguson said 83 members of the 200-seat Legislature had signed on to her bill as co-sponsors.

Service dogs and other working animals are often permitted in establishments that don’t allow pets, such as restaurants, shops and hotels.

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