The latest states include Minnesota and Arizona. In Minnesota, people passing off their pets as service animals could face a $100 fine and a misdemeanor charge. In Arizona, people who misrepresent their pets as service animals can be fined $250.
Supporters of these new laws compare people with "fake" service dogs to people who acquire handicap sings so that they can park in spaces intended for disabled people.
In an NBC News report, Republican Arizona State Senator John Kavanagh said, "I couldn't go into a store or an airport or even an office without seeing some disorderly four-legged creature dragging it's owner around, wearing a vest that said 'service animal'. I would see people in the supermarkets with animals in the cart or walking around sniffing all the food."
Currently, there is no uniform nationwide certification or registration process for legitimate service animals who undergo at least 1 year of specialized training. And, under the Americans with Disabilities Act law, business owners can only ask two questions of anyone who says they have a service dog: Is this a service animal, and what is the animal trained to do. They cannot ask for documentation or ask about the person's specific disability.
This makes it easy for people to scam the system by purchasing so-called service dog harnesses and vests online and putting them on their often ill-mannered, undertrained dogs and other pets. And, to get their doctors to sign letters declaring that their pets help them reduce depression or anxiety.
Lawmakers and officials of legitimate service animal organizations recognize that this is a growing problem, but do not keep records of people caught with illegitimate service animals or so-called support pets.
Under the ADA, support animals are not protected by this law with the exception of those trained to comfort military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"It's compounded by the confusing terminology around this," said Amy McCullough, the national director of research and therapy programs at the American Humane Association to NBC-News. "People prey upon that with the purpose of gaming the system."
A Service animal is trained to be in public and to be under control and non-intrusive. They are trained to aid to perform specific functions for people who are blind, deaf, wheel-chaired bound or have other disabilities.
On average, service dogs receive up to two years of training that can cost more than $40,000. There is often a waiting time of two years for these service dogs.
The long-term goal is to create a national certification program and registry for legitimately trained service dogs – a move strongly supported by officials at the National Education for Assistance Dog Services based in Massachusetts and the National Disability Rights Network.
By Sarah Zumhofe