Minnesota Joins States Saying No to Fake Service Animals

By: - April 30, 2018 12:00 am

Earle, a 3-year-old service dog, helps his owner, Chris Slavin, cast her ballot in the 2016 presidential election at the Danvers, Massachusetts, town clerk’s office. The latest state to clamp down on people who misrepresent untrained pets as trained service animals is Minnesota.

Courtesy of Chris Slavin

Add Minnesota to the growing list of states that will no longer tolerate pet owners trying to pass off their furry or feathered friends as service animals when they have never received any such training.

Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, signed a bill into law that would subject violators to $100 fines for misrepresenting their pets as fully trained service animals. Senators voted unanimously for the measure and only one representative in the Minnesota House voted against.

More than 20 states have tightened the leash on fake service dogs by enacting similar laws in the hopes that such measures will discourage pet owners from bringing untrained animals into retail stores, restaurants, libraries and other public places, where their behavior can bother other patrons and employees.

Service dogs have long helped the blind navigate their lives. More recently, many people with other disabilities or health conditions have found them useful.

Service animals, which are usually dogs, undergo rigorous training that can last up to two years at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars. A well-trained dog doesn’t misbehave in the ways other dogs might, by jumping up on people, begging, running off or barking excessively.

But there is no central, universally recognized certification for dogs trained as service animals. Many people acquire service animal vests and falsely pass their pets off as trained service animals so they can bring them anywhere. The Americans with Disabilities Act gives service animals access to public places.

Because there is no certification for those animals, however, merchants have no way of telling which animals are legitimate.

That lack of certification is also likely to limit the effectiveness of the new laws. Business owners and law enforcement will still not know whether the animal has received real training or not. But proponents of the law hope the measures will nevertheless cause pet owners to think twice before trying to pass off their animals as legitimate service pets.

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Michael Ollove

Michael Ollove covers health care for Stateline. Ollove worked for many years at The Baltimore Sun, as an enterprise reporter and an editor.