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Fake service dog owners cause problems for people with disabilities

9:03 PM, Jan 1, 2014   |    comments
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DENVER - You see them in stores, restaurants, even airports.

Service dogs are supposed to help people with disabilities.

But what if you suspect someone's "service dog" is just a regular pet, and its owner is faking a disability so they can take their dog wherever they want?

9NEWS followed a newstip and found service dog fraud is hurting people who really need these animals.

Daily life used to be a struggle for Veronica Morris.

"I could only go to work and home. I couldn't go to the grocery store. It was too stressful. Too scary," Morris said.

Morris has bipolar. She has the panic disorder agoraphobia, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

"I would not be here today if it weren't for my service dog," she said.

Her dog's name is Ollivander, and it was with Morris in the hospital after she attempted suicide.

Professionally training a service dog can often cost tens of thousands of dollars, although Certified Professional Service Dog Trainers like Morgance Ellis do teach dog owners how to train their own animals.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, business owners cannot ban service animals, but they can ask questions.

"The first question, 'Is this a service dog?' And two, 'What does this service dog do to help you,'" Ellis explained.

Ellis says business owners are not allowed to ask a service dog owner for ID or certification.

They cannot ask for proof of training, a demonstration of the dog's ability, or what kind of disability the owner has.

But if an owner is allowing their animal to misbehave, Ellis says a business does have the right to ask the owner to remove the animal from the premises.

Ellis says they must tell the dog owner they're welcome to come back to the business, without the dog.

Attorney Jessica Peck says fake service dogs provoke problems if allowed to run rampant.

"Abuse of the system hurts a lot of people," Peck said. "The problem now of course is people are saying enough, no more dogs."

Most disabilities are not visible and therefore many people with disabilities look just like everyone else.

So the key to identifying a fake service dog is not to look at the person, but their dog and its behavior.

"The dogs that are disruptive - that bark, and pee, and poop and bite and stuff like that - hat really damages our ability to go out in public and have goodwill from the public," Morris said.

The bottom line, service dog or not, if the animal misbehaves, you can ask the owner to remove the dog.

At the same time, respect those who really do need their service animals to survive.

Links to more information:

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) homepage

ADA FAQ service animals in businesses

ADA service animal revised requirements

Colorado Cross Disability Coalition

Morgance Ellis, Certified Professional Service Dog Trainer

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