Fake service animals
State Sen. Russell Ruderman is to be praised for trying to stop the plague of fake service animals in facilities and businesses used by the public.
Fake service animals not only are a nuisance, they also can injure people and legitimate service animals.
Trained service animals are selected for their docile temperaments and often are attacked by fake service animals. Just ask anyone who uses a guide dog about their horrendous experiences with fake service animals.
Enforcement of a fake service animal law would be difficult because the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits questions about the nature of a person’s disability and the training of service animals. A more successful law would focus on penalizing violations of rules already in existing federal and state laws.
For example, the service animal’s handler must answer key questions regarding the animal. That is, that the animal is a service animal required for a disability and what task or tasks the service animal performs to assist the person (related to the disability, but not asking about the disability). A person who refuses to answer the questions can be denied admittance to the facility, program, etc.
The service animal must be housebroken, generally on a leash and under the handler’s control. Also, the state Department of Health requires a barrier between a service animal transported in a shopping cart and the cart.
In Hawaii, it is already an offense to cause injury or death to a service dog. The law (HRS 711-1109.4 and .5) provides for substantial fines, imprisonment and restitution for damages. Irresponsible animal handlers beware: Replacement fees for trained service animals, such as guide dogs, can approach $200,000.
The proposed law could be enforced by law enforcement agencies that already protect the peace or enforce animal control.
State and federal fair housing laws permit emotional support animals in facilities and programs that fall under their jurisdiction, but, again, these animals must be under control and housebroken.
The ADA does allow trained miniature horses to assist people with disabilities and transportation services are covered by other laws that do not limit the species of service animals to dogs.
Service animals “in training” are not considered service animals, so puppies do not qualify.
Finally, it would be useful for businesses to post prominent signs that say “No Pets Allowed.” Health care professionals must stop writing fake service animal prescriptions for patients who want to avoid airline fees or wish to take Fluffy shopping.