People are dressing up their pets as service dogs, but a new bill would make it illegal

SEATTLE -- Many of us have seen it.

A person and their dog will walk into a store with a "no pets allowed" sign. The dog barks or yips, disturbing other customers. Employees make it known that pets aren't welcome.

"It's OK," the person will say. "It's my service dog."

Or, "it's my therapy dog."

Public access for certified service dogs is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. But more and more states are strictly defining the term "service animal."

Now, Washington is joining the fray.

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it a crime to lie about your dog being a service animal, and more tightly define the definition of the term, restricting what some are calling the rise of fake service dogs. 

Fake service dogs?

Washington is not the first to consider cracking down on fake service dogs. By the end of last year, 19 states had laws penalizing the owners of fake service animals. Delta Airlines said in 2016, it saw the number of urination and biting reports from animals on planes nearly double.

On Friday, Delta announced it would require increased documentation before allowing service dogs or therapy animals on a plane.

"In 2017," the airline said in a statement, "Delta employees reported increased acts of aggression (barking, growling, lunging and biting) from service and support animals, behavior not typically seen in these animals when properly trained and working."

State representative Joan McBride, D-Kirkland, said no properly trained service animal will lunge or bite. Generally, service dogs go through years of training for the specific task they're assigned, McBride said.

Whether it's a seeing-eye dog that helps lead a blind person, or a dog trained to recognize the emotional cues of someone with PTSD, service dogs all have specific tasks they perform.

A fix in Washington?

McBride is a co-sponsor of HB 2822. The bill defines "service animals" as "any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability."

The work or tasks performed must be directly related to individual's disability.  General "therapy dogs" that provide comfort may fall outside of the scope.

"The crime deterrent effects of an animal's presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks," the bill reads.

The bill would make "misrepresentation of service animals" a $500 fine.

The bill comes, in part, after recognizing fake service dog vests are available online.

"I could put a vest on my Dachshund," McBride said. "And he could get in anywhere."

McBride said she's also seen the prevalence of purported therapy dogs or emotional support animals increase over the years. While therapy dogs help thousands of people each year, they can be quite different from service dogs performing tasks, McBride said.  According to Swedish Medical Center, therapy dogs are not covered by the ADA.

She calls it a "hot topic," but argues therapy dogs aren't suited for all environments, such as a grocery store.

"Just know that because your dog is therapeutic and you feel better with it, that's not enough" McBride said.

McBride is clear that she loves dogs, she just doesn't like to see people abusing a system for those who truly need it.

If you buy a fake service dog vest online just because you want Fido in the store, that could be a punishable crime.

Airline requirements

Most airlines allow service animals on a flight but have specific requirements owners must follow.

Some of those include; making sure your pet can fit on your lap, at your feet, or under the seat. They cannot block the aisle and they must behave and follow directions from its owner.

Each airline has specific rules so make sure you check with them before you fly.

American Airlines:

Southwest Airlines:

United Airlines:

Delta Airlines: