What happens if you get caught with a fake service dog? What should you do if you think someone is faking a service animal?
This blog is provided for general information only. Always talk to a laywer or other appropriate professional before making decisions.
Is faking a service animal illegal?
Many states have passed laws making it illegal to fake a service dog.
Depending on where you live, faking a service animal could be a misdemeanor with potential jail time or a civil violation punishable by a fine. You usually won’t face felony charges for a fake service dog.
In some states, any act of falsely representing an animal as a service animal is a crime. Others penalize specific acts such as faking a service animal to obtain a reasonable housing accommodation or misrepresenting your need for a service dog to a medical professional.
The National Conference of State Legislatures has a good breakdown of the laws about fake service dogs in each state.
Is it illegal to fake a service dog in training?
Most states have the same consequences for faking a service animal in training as they do for a working service animal. That’s because most states give service dogs in training similar legal protection to working service dogs.
Service dogs in training need to be able to access the same areas as working service dogs. So faking a service animal in training can do just as much harm as faking a working service dog.
What should you do if you have a fake service dog?
If you have a fake service dog, you should usually stop immediately. Just stop bringing your dog places where it isn’t supposed to be.
One tricky situation is if you faked a service dog to your landlord since there’s a good chance your landlord could report you. You’ll probably want to talk to a lawyer about how to handle this situation.
What should you do if you’re falsely accused of faking a service animal?
If you’re falsely accused of faking a service animal by a business, you should remind them of the requirements under the ADA (more below).
In many places, a business can technically force you to leave under the threat of trespassing charges since the police would consider the ADA a civil matter. You would then likely be able to file a civil lawsuit for discrimination or ADA violations.
If a random person bothers you about your service dog, you can usually ask them to leave you alone and call the police to have them arrested for harassment if necessary.
Police officers also generally don’t have a right to ask you for more proof that you have a legitimate service dog than allowed by the ADA. If the police wrongly arrest or cite you, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer.
Can you check if a service animal is fake?
It’s really hard for businesses to know whether service animals are real, and that’s why many people try to take advantage of the situation.
What can you ask?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) generally limits business owners, landlords, managers, and other responsible people to asking two questions:
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- What task has the dog been trained to perform?
The Americans with Disabilities Act generally doesn’t protect emotional support animals, but the problem is you may not want to risk breaking the rules protecting service animals by questioning an emotional support animal.
State laws may also give protection to emotional support animals that isn’t found in the ADA.
Under U.S. Department of Transportation rules, airlines can also ask for a DOT certification form.
What can’t you ask?
Once you ask the two questions allowed under the ADA, you usually can’t ask for additional proof like:
- More information about the person’s disability
- Proof of licensing, training, or certification
- Asking for a demonstration of the dog’s ability to work
- Requiring a service animal to wear a vest or identifying tag
Are service animal IDs fake?
There are no universal service animal IDs or vests. Some training organizations do provide identification for their service animals but remember you generally can’t ask for this proof.
Many people with disabilities also prefer to buy a vest or other identifier for their service animals even if it’s not an “official” ID. Vests or other forms of ID also let other people know the dog is working and not to bother it.
Can you remove a misbehaving service animal?
Service animals are usually very highly trained to not misbehave, and a misbehaving service animal is often a sign of a fake service animal.
You should know that you can generally remove even a legitimate service animal if it is misbehaving or disrupting your business. Examples can include causing property damage, barking or growling, or approaching other people in an unwanted manner.
It’s usually a good idea to clearly state why you’re removing the service animal and to document the situation. If you use video surveillance cameras, you may want to save the video in case the dog’s owner files a legal complaint.
You should also know that while you can’t normally charge pet surcharges for service animals, you can usually charge the owner for damage or cleaning costs if the service animal causes a problem.