In the United States where the practice of flying with Service Animals is widespread, Colorado has now introduced legislation to make it a crime passing a common pet off as a ‘fake’ service animal.
The items sold to anyone submitting an inquiry were rendered without any legitimate disability of the pet owners, enabling them for example to travel free of charge with their pets on airlines.
Usually the transport of larger animals in the cabin is not permitted (has to be checked into the cargo hold) and small ‘pet-in-cabin’ animals are subject to a charge.
In 2015 a TV investigation revealed the scaled of unsanctioned trade with such certifications and the team approached Colorado lawmakers who took action, bringing a bill on the way that will make such trade and especially the use of fake certifications illegal.
You can find the story on Fox 31 Denver here.
State Sen. Linda Newell and Rep. Daniel Kagan are proposing legislation that would make misrepresenting your pet as a service animal a crime in Colorado.
“We make it an offense, a criminal offense to pretend and deliberately, knowingly, fraudulently pretend that a non-service animal is a service animal,” Kagan said.
The bill was prompted by investigative reporter Heidi Hemmat’s two-part series that aired in February 2015. …
The ‘Problem Solvers’ investigation uncovered dozens of business selling service animal vests and certifications for a fee, with no proof of disability required.
Hemmat also tracked down Colorado company Chilhowee Psychological service in Woodland Park that registers “emotional support animals.” ESAs are allowed to fly in the cabin of an airplane for free.
The investigation also exposed licensed Colorado counselor Stanford Scott Sutherland for sending letters deeming people he never met, “mentally disabled” in order for them to fly with their “emotional support animal” for free.
As a result of the report, Sutherland’s license is under investigation for possible ethics violations with the Colorado Department of Regulatory agencies.
This is the right step and something has to be done to curb the misuse of regulations reserved for the disabled of the society who already have it difficult enough without being looked at as fraudsters just because some people misuse the existing regulations. Somehow I doubt though that much will happen even if this pall passes and becomes the law. I don’t see much motivation of gate agents and flight attendants to actually call the cops of people they suspect have false documentation, mostly fearing of getting into trouble by giving the passenger reason for a lawsuit or complaint.
What are the proposed penalties?
People caught misrepresenting their pets as service animals could face misdemeanor charges and a $350 fine for the first offense, $600 for the second offense and $1,000 for the third offense.
In my opinion these fines are not high enough to deter offenders and there are no consequences as it’s a misdemeanor charge. Especially considering whenever there is something that compromises aviation safety, authorities usually go bonkers. Let’s not forget these are regular pets who are not specially trained to travel and adhere to certain behavior. A dog could very well bite someone which a trained service dog would never do (at least in 99,9% of the cases).
Last year LoyaltyLobby wrote about a passenger carrying a HUGE dog onto an American Airlines flight (access the article here).
While this is a great first step on paper I don’t think it will have much effect if it only penalizes the offenders. Legislation should also focus on the physicians who certify individuals to be allowed such licenses and threaten hefty fines up to the loss of their license if they are found to run a ‘certificate mill’.