N.C. groups press for laws against bogus service dog ownership
The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C.
Editor’s note: Thomas Brennan is currently having a PTSD service dog trained by The Refined K-9. Neither he nor The Daily News received any compensation or discounts from the organization for including them in this article.
In response to concerns about people abusing the system, some handlers, trainers and disability organizations think the government needs to tighten the leash on laws in the use of service dogs.
“The laws are so lax that people just say they have a service dog to get away with something,” said Samantha Scarborough, owner and lead trainer at The Refined K-9 in Swansboro.
She was referring to the rise of fraudulent service dog cases in Onslow County.
“It’s not just the laws for handlers though,” she said. “There needs to be stricter laws where trainers have to abide by a certain curriculum and the dog must meet a certain standard before they graduate.”
With the ability to buy service vests and other service dog supplies at a variety of online distributors across the country, people can fraudulently present their dog as a service animal regardless of its training — a trend that Scarborough said is becoming more prevalent.
A service dog performs a specific task depending on each handler’s condition. Therapy dogs are used to provide comfort to those in nursing homes and hospitals. Service dogs can be trained to monitor blood sugar, sense seizure precursors and aid people dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, among other services, according to Scarborough.
“Frauds are among some of the issues we have to deal with,” Scarborough said. “I think it would be great if there was an education campaign for not only people but also local businesses to teach them about service dogs.”
There are a couple tell-tale signs that a dog may not be a properly trained service dog: barking, showing aggression or pulling on their leash are all things Scarborough said a trained service dog does not do. But businesses that suspect a dog may not be a trained service dog are limited to what they can do.
Legally, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, someone may not ask for proof of the dog’s certification or proof of a person’s disability. Only when a service dog becomes a nuisance to other patrons can a business owner ask a person and his or her dog to leave.
For Maxine Frisbee, 41, of Jacksonville, her dog Betty helps her with vestibular problems associated with her multiple sclerosis. Over the past few years she said she has experienced problems with people allowing Betty into establishments and others asking her illegal questions. It hasn’t all been bad though. She noted that Barnes and Nobles employees in particular look forward to Betty accompanying her into the bookstore.
“For the most part I don’t have a problem,” Frisbee said. “I’ve been asked to leave restaurants and, of all places, a doctor’s office. But I have noticed out-of-control dogs with service vests so I can understand why people are skeptical when I walk in. It’s wrong. It hurts the ones with the need for a real service dog.”
Kids are the most accepting of Betty whereas adults give the dog funny looks and pet her without asking — something that distracts the dog from performing its tasks, she said.
“People need to know I have my dog for a reason,” Frisbee said. “Me, of all people, wish I didn’t need her to perform the tasks she does for me. ...I just wish people knew how to react to service dogs. People in town need to realize the benefit these dogs provide and be more accepting.”
But Frisbee realizes that can be a challenge, especially when the service dog’s handler has “invisible” injuries, such as epilepsy, PTSD or a traumatic brain injury.
Currently there is no standard curriculum for specific tasks a dog must perform, nor is there testing procedures to ensure the dog and handler can perform the tasks properly together, according to the ADA.
“I love the idea of standardized training for the dog and the handler,” Frisbee said. “By having each dog and handler tested before they can bring the dog out in town would be a great idea.
“If you can’t handle the dog properly and if the dog is out of control there is no need for you to be using him or her.”
Alex Shreve, the president of the Onslow Commission for Persons with Disabilities, said issues with service dogs have been brought to their attention. Concerns include restaurants refusing to serve individuals with service dog and others being asked to leave businesses because other patrons didn’t feel comfortable with a dog present, he said.
“Establishing relationships with consumers only serves to help the merchant or manager know the need of that individual and the reason why they utilize a service dog,” Shreve said. “It would also be helpful for owners to carry some type of documentation indicating the service dog is certified.”
Shreve said the training and education of businesses and agencies is extremely important, especially making sure they know what to look for in a potentially fake service dog — particularly in Onslow County because of the increase of those using service dogs
Shreve encourages those who feel a violation of ADA regulations has occurred to visit ada.gov and fill out a U.S. Department of Justice complaint form. For those who meet the medical criteria for a service dog, contact The Refined K-9 at 910-334-6458 or visit their training facility at 151 Seth Thomas Lane in Swansboro for more information.