SHELBY COUNTY, Ala. – According to WBMA, starting September 1, falsely claiming a pet is a service animal will be a crime in Alabama. Fake service jackets, and lying about the need to bring the animal with you will result in a Class C misdemeanor.
From turning on a light switch, picking up medical bags, responding to a seizure and even opening the fridge, service animals can perform lifesaving tasks.
Roverchase in Shelby County trains service animals for people with disabilities. The director says fraud happens all the time.
“It's a huge problem and it seems to be a growing problem which is really concerning,” Abigail Witthauer, Director of Roverchase said.
The fraud is not just pet owners buying service jackets on the internet but also the people who lie about their ability to train the animals.
“When I fly with my service dog I would say on average 50% or greater of the dogs we contact in the airport are fraudulent,” Witthauer said.
Faking it is pretty simple.
“If you simply google 'service dog certification' your first 14-18 hits will be fraudulent websites that say ‘send us $200 and we will send you a vest and certificate,’” Witthauer said.
So with service dogs coming in so many sizes and breeds how do you tell real from fake?
One way: behavior. If a dog is out of control or trying to get attention from others, it's a great indicator there's a problem.
“Any disabled handler should be able to answer the two big questions readily: is this a service dog? Yes. What task does it perform? It should come out like your address or phone number comes out - you should know it by heart. it should be easy. That's a great way to tell,” Witthauer said.
Another way to spot a fake is the dog's age. It takes 18 months to train the animal from the time it's born. Starting September 1st faking a service dog will be a Class C misdemeanor. If caught, a $100 fine and 100 hours of community service is the punishment.