Untrained service animals becoming a problem
COLUMBIA - People are increasingly passing off their untrained pets as trained service animals.
Websites are selling false certificates and service vests to people that say their dog is a trained service animal, Dr. TerriAnn Tucker-Warhover, Puppies with Purpose Director, said.
Many of these websites ask users to personally certify they have a disability and trained their pet. This means anyone can buy materials to make it look like their pet is a service animal.
"Mainly [people] are [buying vests and certificates online] so they can take private dogs into restaurants or public places. We have a big problem in Columbia with students wanting to do it so they don't have to pay the fee for having a dog in the apartment," Tucker-Warhover said. She said regardless of pet policy, apartments are supposed to allow service dogs to live with individuals.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.
Tucker-Warhover said when people abuse the system and bring untrained pets into public places under the disguise of trained service animals, it hurts those who actually train their service dogs.
"It's really damaging all the work that groups like Puppies with Purpose are doing," she said.
It is illegal in Missouri to impersonate someone with a disability in order to receive accommodations related to service dogs. However, Tucker-Warhover said the underlying problem is no Missouri laws actually define standards for identifying whether service animals are trained.
While Puppies with Purpose and their parent organization, CHAMP Assistance Dogs have their own vests, tags, and paperwork certifying the organization trained the animal, this type of documentation is not legally required.
ADA policies specify businesses cannot insist on proof of certification for a person with a service dog.
"We need more legislation to be able to have some guidelines that say this is a service dog...but you have to be able to do it in a way that you're not infringing upon the rights of the individual who has the disability... so it's pretty tricky," she said.