FAKE SERVICE ANIMALS CRIMINALIZED

EVERGREEN, CO - JUNE 18: Matilda II, a five-year-old service dog, stands with her owner, Kyle Walpole, at an intersection near downtown Evergreen on June 18, 2014, in Evergreen, Colorado. Matilda was paired with Walpole three years ago to help him with his hearing impairment. The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office recently published a newsletter citing the problem of non-certified service animals and its intent to investigate the rising issue. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/The Denver Post)

EVERGREEN, CO – JUNE 18: Matilda II, a five-year-old service dog, stands with her owner, Kyle Walpole, at an intersection near downtown Evergreen on June 18, 2014, in Evergreen, Colorado. Matilda was paired with Walpole three years ago to help him with his hearing impairment. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office recently published a newsletter citing the problem of non-certified service animals and its intent to investigate the rising issue. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/The Denver Post)

New bill that just passed in the Colorado house compares faking service animals to parking in accessible spaces without a permit.

It has taken decades for service animals to be respected and understood by society. That trust is in the process of crumbling due to posers who slap a vest and phony credential on their pet to sneak it into restaurants, shops, and other public places. The new bill that just passed the Colorado House seeks to make it a crime for folks to intentionally misrepresent a pet as a service animal for their benefit. Angela Eaton, executive director of Canine Partners for the Rockies, said her clients who are paired with thoroughly trained service dogs find fake service dogs to be “a huge problem.” “There are well-meaning people out there who feel their dog does provide a service, but they haven’t done the proper training. I hope this encourages people to seek that out” said Eaton.

Rep. Daniel Kagan, an Arapahoe County Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, explained that it would make the offense punishable in the same way that taking a disabled parking space is punishable — a $33 surcharge plus a fine of:

  • $350 to $1,000 for a first offense;
  • $600 to $1,000 for a second offense;
  • $1,000 to $5,000 and up to 10 hours of community service for a third or subsequent offense.
    “When people go about with a pet which they are passing off as a service animal

falsely, they bring the entire program into disrepute,” Kagan told the House Judiciary Committee on March 22. “The persons that derive the worst effect of that are those with a legitimate need for a service animal.”
Walpole describes the problem in three parts.
First, he said faux service dogs are giving legitimate service dogs a bad reputation. “It’s causing discrimination against legitimate guide hearing and service dogs,” he said.
Secondly, he said it poses a threat to the public who has come to expect service dogs to act a certain way and could be attacked or otherwise harmed by a fake service dog.
Lastly, it’s fraud.

He added: “People are defrauding things like hotels and businesses when they avoid pet fees that service dogs are afforded.”

Elizabeth Hernandez: 303-954-1223, ehernandez@denverpost.com or @ehernandez