Local News


Bogus service dogs muddying legal waters

Posted at 11:44 PM, Apr 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-08 12:23:13-04
Our viewers are seeing more animals in grocery stores, movie theaters, and restaurants. While many people do have service dogs to help them, people are spotting an increase in dogs that just don't seem to be helping anyone.
Action News viewer Jennifer Barnes took several photos at the Walmart on Tropical Parkway of dogs inside the store.
"It's ridiculous how many animals we see in there," said Barnes. "Then when I speak to a manager they tell us that the law has changed, that any animal can be in there as long as they're not in a shopping cart. But we've seen them in the shopping cart as well as on the floor and nobody in the store says anything about it."
Barnes said she sees at least three dogs every time she goes.
"It's getting bad," she said. "I don't know why somebody hasn't spoken up sooner, said something about it, done something about it."
Barnes said she has even seen animals inside pee on the floor, which dog trainer Janet Edberg says is a sign it's not a real service dog.
"You shouldn't even know that dog is there," said Edberg, who has had a service dog for 18 years for her multiple sclerosis.
Edberg has been training service dogs for the last five years with Smarty Paws. She said people see someone with a service dog, and want to take their pet with them too. It's easy enough to make your pet look legitimate.
"You can go online and you can buy a card, you can get a vest," said Edberg, who says the process to make your dog look like a service dog costs a couple hundred dollars online. But the training can be a lot of work and usually takes months.
Edberg thinks businesses are too scared to question people with a dog inside.
"All they know is if [they] ask the wrong question they could be sued, so they don't say anything and they just put up with it," Edberg said.
She said this is making it harder for people like her and her students who need their service dogs to live a normal life.
She talked to us about the laws:
-You don't have to carry paperwork and your dog doesn't need a vest.
-If a dog is acting poorly in public, the business owner can ask the person to calm the dog down. If the animal doesn't get under control in a reasonable amount of time, they can be asked to leave.
-A business owner can ask you to leave if the dog is aggressive/threatening or goes to the bathroom inside.
-A business owner can ask if the dog is a service animal and what tasks it performs.
Edberg said only about half of the people who want to train their dog to be an assistance animal actually need one. She said the other half of those are people are largely people who want emotional support animals, which do not have the same rights as service dogs.