- Associated Press - Monday, March 4, 2019

KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. (AP) - More and more landlords are restricting pets from their properties, but they have no legal recourse from prospective tenants bringing in fake service dogs.

The problem of fake service animals was addressed at a recent meeting at the Kennett Public Library after merchants questioned the use of service animals by some patrons.

“Businesses must permit service animals - dogs or miniature horses - to accompany people with disabilities in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go,” said Susann Guy, Chief Operating Officer at Canine Partners for Life in Cochranville.

Guy said that today, any pet owner can go online and buy a vest for a dog to pass it off as a service animal and gain access to restaurants, hotels and other businesses.

Guy said local landlords are finding that people need only say their dog is a service dog and there is nothing the landlord can do legally to prohibit them from renting the apartment or house. The only two questions people are permitted to ask service dog owners are “is this a service dog?” and “what tasks the dog is trained to perform?”

“Unfortunately, because of the internet, people are getting smart about this, and this is what is challenging us right now,” Guy said. “We are trying to figure out how to tackle these fake service dogs that are out there. People are passing their family pets off as being a service dog.”

Because there is no certification or official national registry of legitimate service dogs, there is no way to verify whether a dog has undergone rigorous training to become a service animal.

“If you have a rental property and someone claims to have an emotional support dog, under the Fair Housing Act, they are allowed to have that dog, even if there is a no-pet policy,” Guy said.

Service dogs are specially trained to perform tasks for a person with a disability and include guide dogs, hearing service dogs and psychiatric service dogs, and have public access through the Americans with Disability Act. They are used by those needing wheelchairs, or who have mobility issues and people prone to seizures or need to be alerted to medical conditions, like low blood sugar and people with autism or mental illness. The American Humane Association says there are 20,000 active service dogs working in the United States.

Service dogs, at least those trained through Canine Partners for Life, cost between $20,000 to $30,000 to train. These dogs, often Labrador Retrievers or Golden Retrievers, have a service life of about 10 years.

But some in Chester County use pit bulls as service dogs, and just their presence is enough to make customers walk out of stores. But Guy said service dogs are trained not be aggressive.

If a customer asks management to remove the dog or have its owner sit elsewhere, the only option is to seat the person complaining elsewhere or ask them to leave. It is illegal to remove a person with a service dog from a business, even if someone asks.

“You just can’t ask someone with a service dog to leave, even if that dog is a pit bull,” Guy said.

A service animal is trained to be in public and to be under control at all times and to not bark. Guy said they are trained do their business on command.

Airlines, under the Air Carrier Access Act, have different rules governing service dogs. Emotional support dogs and therapy dogs, which are not covered under the ADA rules, are prohibited.

Carrie Freeman, CEO of the United Way of Southern Chester County, said she recently was on a flight and the person behind her had a service animal that was a Schnauzer. “I told the boarding lady that I was allergic to dogs, and she said I’ll just have to take a later plane,” Freeman said.

But the problem for owners of Kennett-area establishments is people bringing dogs in, and there is no way to determine whether the dog is a real service animal. Even identification tags or identifying dog vests are not required, according to the ADA law.

But the problem remains. Anyone can go online and purchase vests that legitimate service dogs wear for about $20. And merchants are prohibited from ejecting them from their store, even if they are certain the dog is not a service dog.

Only if the dog is disruptive can the merchant insist the dog and its owner leave.

But there is hope on the horizon. Recently, 21 states have mounted a major crackdown down on people who falsely claim their pets as service and support animals so they can bring them into restaurants, theaters and other public places.

Delta and Alaska Airlines have tightened their rules for transporting service and support animals, and the federal Department of Transportation is exploring new rules to reduce the likelihood that airplane passengers falsely claim their pets as service animals.





Information from: Daily Local News, http://www.dailylocal.com

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