Bogus Service Animal Scams are on the Rise

While talking with a friend of mine about our mutual fear of dogs and/or children running up to our dogs when we are out walking them, I was surprised to hear her say she was going to go online and purchase a Service Dog vest for her dog so people would stop asking her if they could pet him.
Upon reaching home, I went on the internet to research service dog paraphernalia and was totally shocked to discover that, with absolutely no proof of the dog’s training or abilities, you can buy, not only vests but leashes, collars, and dog tags that say your dog is a “Service Dog”, or an “Emotional Support Dog”, or a “Seizure Alert Dog”.  But it doesn’t stop there.  I found a bevy of questionable service and emotional support animal “registries” who will certify any dog as a “service dog” or a “therapy dog” for a price and another who will be more than happy to certify your pet, be it a rabbit, mouse, or iguana as an “emotional support animal”.  Many people purchase the phony service vests so that they can take their pets into restaurants or to get a free flight on an airplane for their dog.
Many people with medical and psychological disabilities have legitimate need for service or therapy dogs, or emotional support animals and having them wear a vest does make it easier getting assistance animals into places where animal are not allowed but presently, the system governing service animals is filled with abuse.  There are three different sets of federal statues applying to the rights of individuals with disabilities being accompanied by animals but the division of responsibility has resulted in an array of confusing and conflicting regulations.  The Americans with Disabilities Act governs accessibility of public places and commercial enterprises and the rules are administered by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice which only pertain to “service animals”.  In theory, the guidelines are strict.  ADA regulates that only dogs can qualify as service animals, pets are not considered service animals and service dogs must be specially trained to preform specific services for specific disabilities.  Seems reasonable but hold on a moment as there are a couple of problems.  First, the law stipulates that a person having a service dog can only be asked two questions by, for example, a restaurant owner – “does the dog provide a service?” and “what has the dog been trained to do?”  The service dog owner cannot be asked what their disability is.  Second, the service dog owner cannot be asked to provide documentation stating that their dog is a trained and certified service animal.  There is no federally recognized service animal certification program, therefore, service animals do not need any form of identification such as a vest.
The Department of Transportation, Air Carrier Access Act differs from the ADA in that it gives legal standing to animals whose sole function is to provide emotional support and are not required to be trained to perform specific tasks.  But, don’t go getting all excited because airlines have been given considerable flexibility by the feds in what is required of passengers claiming to need their emotional support animal.  You may be asked to provide a signed letter from a “licensed mental health professional” including their address and phone number and it must state that you have a disorder listed in the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association and you are under active treatment for your disorder.  The ACAA does not restrict emotional support animals to just dogs so you can bring your iguana on your trip to calm your nerves.
If you need an official looking letter to the airlines from a “mental health professional” stating your pet qualifies as an “emotional support animal”, search the web.  I’m sure you can find a group of guys with master’s degrees who, for $168, will diagnose your psychological problems over the internet.