Bill targets growing problem of bogus service animals

HILO ­ — ­­State lawmakers have introduced a bill that would make it a crime to falsely present an animal as a service animal.

Senate Bill 2461, introduced January 19, would make the act of falsely claiming an animal to be a service animal a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a maximum penalty of up to six months in jail or up to $1,000 for the first offense.

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Senator Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, who spearheaded the bill, said the measure is intended to prevent people from abusing the system and bringing untrained pets into public places, which can lead to owners of legitimate service animals being treated with suspicion and annoyance.

“There are two kinds of animals we’re talking about,” Ruderman said. “There are the (Americans with Disabilities Act) service animals. Then there are the so-called ‘comfort animals’ or ‘emotional support’ animals.”

Problems arise, Ruderman said, when people attempt to bring an emotional support animal — which is, in reality, a pet with no special training at all — into a place where it isn’t allowed. Then, when challenged, the owner claims the animal is a service animal whose presence is necessary for the owner to cope with a disability.

“People are cautious about challenging people who say that,” said Ruderman, who noted chains such as Safeway, KTA Super Stores and Wal-Mart have stopped questioning people with animals entirely.

Ruderman, owner of the grocery chain Island Naturals, said complaints about obviously false service animals are common in the retail industry and have occurred more and more frequently in recent years.

“I remember I once had a woman come up to me shaking because she was afraid of this huge Great Dane that someone brought in,” Ruderman said. “It was behaving very aggressively, and it wasn’t even on a leash.”

Because of incidents like these, people with legitimate need for a service animal are often viewed with resentment by people who are used to having to accommodate obviously untrained “comfort animals,” Ruderman said.

Ruderman said there is no “clear, objective” way to easily prove an animal is a trained service animal. Although people ask for certificates and colored vests, the ADA does not require service animals to be certified, and such items can be easily obtained online — “having a vest only proves that you can buy a vest online,” Ruderman said.

Because of this, Ruderman conceded that the law would be difficult to enforce, but said he believes the potential penalties will be sufficient to deter most offenders.

If nothing else, Ruderman said, it would prevent “absurdities” such as a January incident at a Newark, New Jersey, airport, where a woman attempted to bring an “emotional support” peacock onto a United Airlines flight. The bird, which violated size requirements, was unable to board.

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The bill will also revise legal language to change references to “service dogs” to the term “service animal,” which is the term used by the ADA. As of 2011, only dogs are able to become service animals.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com

  1. oh_yes_yes_yes February 20, 2018 7:39 am

    ADA time to certify your animals.Legitimately well-trained and registered service animals should accompany their owners. Howver, the time for 90-pound barking pitbulls to be removed from grocery stores has arrived.

    Pet owners who bring their animals into food establishments such as grocery stores, restaurants and doctor’s offices, you may as well be wearing a vest yourself, with a large bold word “ENTITLED” at the top and in a bit smaller print “Probably socially inept and Certainly emotionally insecure” beneath.
    Consideration for people who have allergies and autoimmune conditions, or have had a history of dog bites/attacks is lacking.


  2. diverdave February 20, 2018 7:43 am

    Wal-Mart and others now sell food, and I always wonder if an animal has been licking and scratching in the very cart I use to put my food items in. This is not just a social issue but a health issue. Thank you Russell for addressing this issue.


    1. Susan February 21, 2018 8:58 am

      So that is bad. But having someones child use the shopping wagon as diaper over flow is good? So having bird poop on the wagon while it sits outside waiting to be returned to the store is good?
      That is what the sanitizing wipes are for. I even carry my own for when none are available.
      BTW, the law already exists that a service animal must be walked. They are already not allowed in a shopping wagon by law. Go look it up.


  3. wahineilikea February 20, 2018 8:34 am

    I was in a grocery store the other day, and was treated to the sight of a mangy (literally mange-ridden), completely untrained dog wearing a fake “service dog” vest, pulling the owner around and stopping to scratch itself next to a floor-level bin of produce. Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious and can affect humans! So gross!


  4. KonaRich February 20, 2018 5:05 pm

    just today went to Longs (CVS) and run into a lady with a mini poodle in her cart. I just started to think. Hope the cart I chose did not have a dog sitting in It. Ugly thought.


  5. Kevin H. February 20, 2018 7:34 pm

    The fakes use dogs as tools for their attention seeking behavior. They are very sick. Beware of them.


  6. Susan February 21, 2018 8:50 am

    I would like address this issue as someone who has needed and used a service dog for over a dozen years. It is for a medical condition that the dog alerts me to.
    Yes, I have seen people with obviously untrained, non-service animals in public places. But I have also been treated rudely and denied access even with the law on my side.
    If you pass a law that will be impossible to enforce you give a green light to those who want nothing more than validation for their negative behavior towards anyone with a service animal. Have you watched what this country as a whole has degenerated to in the last year? What makes you think this will be any different by giving the stamp of approval to those who were restrained by current law from harrassing or denying someone with a service animal?
    The current law already says that a service animal must not be disruptive or aggressive in a public place. The current law already states service animals may not impede an aisle way on a plane or extend it’s presence into another passenger’s space. The owner of the service animal may not even sit in an aisle seat.
    Any proprietor of an establishment may ask a person with a service animal to leave if the service animal displays disruptive behavior. But they may also not deny or harass anyone with a properly behaved service animal. THOSE LAWS ALREADY EXIST. It is covered by the American Disability Act of 1999.
    Please stop and think before you make my life and my service dog’s life more difficult.


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