Local News

Service animal fraud a growing concern across North Carolina

Posted June 14, 2016

— Service animal fraud is a growing problem across the country and in North Carolina.

Most stores are typically off limits for pets, but Kay Gunter’s trained service dog, Cruz, is an exception.

Cruz has been trained to pull grocery baskets and pay for items.

Gunter said there’s an ongoing issue of people pretending their dogs are service animals

"People do buy vests online and they do it intentionally,” Gunter said. "I saw a lady going into a restaurant one time and her dog had a vest that said service dog in big letters; no logo from the organization or anything.”

Canine Companions for Independence said this type of fraud happens often. While the organization provides legal assistance dogs, they're also fighting hard to stop the fakes.

“It's becoming an increasing problem and I think it's just because it's all too easy for people to acquire a vest,” said Jen Hanes, a trainer with CCI. “You can order one online very simply, put it on a dog and then take that dog out in public.”

Hanes said many people want to avoid fees and be able to keep their pets with them.

"Sometimes it's that they don't want to pay the fine or the fee to have the dog with them, or to fly the dog in the cabin, on a plane or the hotel fine or the car rental fine,” Hanes said.

Gunter says the fake service dog issue has created a backlash against people who need legitimate service dogs.

“Business owners need to know that it's OK to ask the person if that's a service dog,” Gunter said.

Under the American’s with Disabilities Act, it is a federal crime to use a fake service dog. Additionally, therapy and emotional support dogs do not have the same public access rights as service dogs.


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  • Chase Truman Jun 16, 2016
    user avatar

    Is there not some sort of certificate that owners are given for their dog once the dog passes the service animal test? It would seem they would get a certificate, but I'm not sure. If they do, however, could places just start requiring that as verification?

  • Paula Shepard Jun 16, 2016
    user avatar

    Kay, you really need to get a clue about what constitutes a legitimate service dog.....it's beyond the pale that you don't already which is obvious by your statement that because they weren't displaying an agency logo that they were not legitimate...you're going to have to do better than that.

  • Paula Shepard Jun 16, 2016
    user avatar

    Excuse me? It was deemed a fake because it didn't have a school logo? Well, I hate to tell you that many genuine service dogs don't wear an agency logo and are completely legitimate. My dog is one of them and he's better trained than the dog in this story, I guarantee it. My training is far superior to what they throw on a dog at an agency where a trainer has a whole string of dogs to attend to each day. I can focus on one or two and it shows. Nowadays one doesn't have to go through a school...they can train privately. There is even private (non school affiliated) service dog specialists out there.

    My friends service dog doesn't wear a logo either. He's very well trained and has been assisting her for quite awhile, last night he alerted on her husband who was having an anaphalactic reaction and could have died- I told her to listen to her dog and sure enough moments after he was in distress...no her dog wasn't taught this....but that is what service dogs do.

  • Jennifer Manganello Jun 15, 2016
    user avatar

    There's nothing fake about a vest that doesn't have a program's logo on it, as service dogs aren't required to come from programs - and many don't for various reasons, including that programs don't train for multiple disabilities, don't train for certain disabilities, only train a few certain breeds, can be expensive/involve fundraising, and usually have waiting lists years long. The law doesn't require a vest or any other gear be worn, except a leash (save for the rare occasion a disability interferes with the use of a leash or during a task that needs to be done off-leash). A particular vest cannot be required because some teams need to use guide harnesses, mobility harnesses, packs, etc. Besides, someone would make fake copies of it for sale in no time. Vests and other gear needs to be sold online so all legit teams have access to it whether they are from a program, a private trainer, or an owner-trainer. And faking is NOT a federal crime nor in the ADA (a civil rights law).

  • Kim Schrock Jun 15, 2016
    user avatar

    Now you know why we need HB2. People can't get their dogs straight let alone the ladies room. Should be a $10K fine with a $1k finders fee for the person that turns them in and that would end it.

  • Frank Curcio Jun 15, 2016
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    True - with Twitter and the rest of the online lynch mob ready to pounce any time someone feels "offended".

  • Jim Hinnant Jun 15, 2016
    user avatar

    Business owners don't dare question the legitimacy of a 'service' animal.

  • James Grimes Jr. Jun 15, 2016
    user avatar

    There has to be a way to differentiate between fakes and the real deal. We may need to require a certain style of vest, with a certain federally owned logo, that only legitimate service vest manufacturers can use.

  • Ileana Bryan Jun 15, 2016
    user avatar

    Sad that these people buying the vests online for their own selfish reasons are going to mess it up for the people that actually need these service animals. What happens if they're all banned from establishments because of this? Sad.