5 On Your Side

Service dog scams putting people 'at risk'

Posted November 18, 2013

— Trained service dogs often act as the eyes, ears, arms or legs of their disabled handlers, helping them cross the street, get on elevators and do other daily tasks. But spotting a true service dog is not always easy.

Some pet owners break federal law by buying vests for their untrained dogs to get them into restaurants, grocery stores and even on flights. A big part of the problem, experts say, is that anyone can go online and easily buy assistance dog vests, identification and supposed certification, even though none of it is required for a true service dog.

“I think it points to the general slide of our culture into selfishness,” said service dog owner Kevin Korobko, of Cary. “A poorly trained ‘service dog,’ it just puts everyone around, for lack of a better word, at risk.”

When Korobko goes into a restaurant or business with his service dog, Glenda, he says he prays that an imposter service dog doesn’t walk by.

“When you throw into the mix an unpredictably behaved fake service dog, you know it’s just, it’s just asking for trouble," Korobko said. “If (Glenda) gets excited, she’s going to rip my arm off."

Glenda was trained at Canine Companions for Independence. She was specifically matched with Korobko, who uses a wheelchair, to help him with numerous tasks, including retrieving his keys, pushing elevator buttons, picking up the phone and turning on and off light switches.

Korobko and other service dog owners say they face increased questioning and discrimination, as well as serious safety concerns, as a result of imposter service dogs.

“Why would you do that to someone who’s already at a disadvantage because of their physical limitation? Just because you can’t be separated from your pet for an hour?” he said.

Korobko says he would like to see more regulation, including standardized identification for service dogs, which he could show to business owners. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, business owners can only ask two questions: Is that a service dog and what task is the dog trained to do?

While some pet owners blatantly abuse the law, others are simply confused about it. Trained therapy dogs, for example, that work in hospitals, schools, nursing homes and courthouses, as well as emotional support dogs that provide comfort and companionship, do not have public access rights.

"Service" dog Fake service dogs putting people 'at risk'

Charlie Blackmon contacted 5 On Your Side after his dog, Zeus, was denied access to a flea market. Blackmon says he adopted Zeus from a rescue and was told that the dog was trained to be a service dog for someone else.

Although Zeus was not trained to help Blackmon, he says the dog alerts him to take medication if his heart rate drops and will get help if he passes out.

"He serves a purpose for me," Blackmon said, tearing up.

During his interview with 5 On Your Side, Blackmon had to physically restrain Zeus from chasing after another dog and had to repeatedly tell him to sit.

"Yeah, he's wearing a service vest. Yes, I guess in one sense you can say I'm passing him off as a service dog. And it's breaking my heart. I thought I was doing everything right," he said, crying. "I've talked to so many different people. Everybody tells you something different."

The 5 On Your Side team helped Blackmon see that Zeus isn't fully trained to be a service dog. Although Blackmon was trying to do the right thing, not everyone has good intentions.

A YouTube video posted March 4, called “Making a mockery of the service dog industry,” shows a man laughing as he takes his dog on a bus and into a restaurant.

“I don’t feel like walking home, so I came up with an idea. I just went and bought him a muzzle, and now we’re going to try to get on the bus and make him a disabled dog,” the man says. “I’m just going to make pretend that I’m some burn out whose brain cells are fried from years of drug abuse and see if we can’t get on the bus. Well, I don’t have to pretend, but whatever.”

The man smiles smugly into the camera as they ride the bus and says, “Good service dog.”

“This service dog scam works pretty good,” he says, before finally being denied entrance to a movie theater.

A WRAL News staffer recently observed a woman walking around a local grocery store with her dog, which she outfitted with a vest and identified as a service dog.

“He is the best (expletive) emotional support … after my boyfriend broke up with me,” she said.

Korobko says it’s situations like these that make him wary about being out in public.

“It makes me think twice about bringing my dog out, which is a shame,” he said.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, only dogs can serve as service animals. A WRAL photographer saw "service monkeys" at the North Carolina State Fair this year.

True service dogs are highly trained and become nearly invisible in public. They don’t jump, bark or eat off the floor. They quickly obey their handler’s commands and stay passive. Passing off a dog as a service dog is a crime and owners can be fined or, in extreme cases, face federal fraud charges.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • bizarro Nov 26, 2013

    People with fake service dogs are as bad as people faking a handicap to cut lines at Disney

  • johcar10 Nov 20, 2013

    I was upset by this story. I know Zeus and his owner. When he was asked to leave the flea market he was sitting at Mr
    Blackmon's feet like he was taught to do. I have seen him alert Mr Blackmon to move and take meds when his blood preasure dropped. When you read a story about a dog that saved a life you believe it though you did not see it happen. Monica did not see Zeus respond to a medical need because it didn't happen in front of her. Does that mean it doesn't happen?

  • lonespiritpc Nov 20, 2013

    The most important thing is that you have full control of your dog at all times.

  • lonespiritpc Nov 20, 2013

    2) While entering a building, your dog should walk beside you. The dog's attention should not be diverted nor should it want to investigate other areas of the building

    3) Inside a building or public transportation the dog should not be distracted by other people or try to go to them. Most people realize it is improper to pet a service animal. The animal should not want attention from other persons surrounding you.

    4) In a restaurant, your dog should be comfortable on the floor beside you or under the table. The dog should not be expecting food from the table and should not be startled by foot traffic in a restaurant.

    5) When a person, adult or child approaches your dog to pet them. The dog should look to you for guidance. The dog should allow petting by others without any aggressive behavior

    6) Your dog should obey all commands without hesitating. Sit and stay should be a onetime command

    The forgoing information is just a general guideline for working with your dog in public. The

  • lonespiritpc Nov 20, 2013

    Does My Dog Qualify As A Service Dog

    It is illegal to represent that you require a service animal, unless you have a disability requiring such a dog a Service Dog must perform a task to assist a person with a disability.

    The First Step

    Working with your dog in Public

    The law: You may be asked to remove your service dog from a premises if:

    1) The animal is out of control and the animal's owner does not take effective action to control it
    2) The animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

    The following questions are to assist you in determining if your service animal is qualified to assist you in public

    General Requirements:

    1) When walking in public, your dog must obey your commands and not be distracted by outside influences, noise or other animals and people.

    2) While entering a building, your dog should walk beside you. The dog's attention should not be diverted nor should it want to investigate other areas of the b

  • lonespiritpc Nov 20, 2013

    For those people with Service Dogs who for whatever reason need advise, help with problem behaviors, help when faced with discrimination, finding doctors, rules for travailing or anything information please contact www.ServiceDog411.com
    For help on whether your dog qualifies as a Service Dog http://www.servicedogsamerica.org
    If you are disabled and find your rights violated or just need assistance contact Disability Rights NC:
    Toll-Free: 877-235-4210
    Phone: 919-856-2195
    TTY: 888-268-5535
    Fax: (919) 856-2244 Email: info@disabilityrightsnc.org Physical and Mailing Address: 2626 Glenwood Avenue, Suite 550 Raleigh, NC 27608

    This report will cause many people with real Service Dogs to be challenged. It was done poorly and totally one sided.

  • lonespiritpc Nov 20, 2013

    First let me say this reporter story is one sided. She is a Puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independents so her information is based on only professional training of Service Dogs.
    The Federal Law allows people with disabilities to train their on Service Dogs.
    Second the reason the number of Service Dogs vast increase in numbers in the last three years is due to the Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD which by law these dogs are Service Dogs and trained by special schools helping Veterans with PTSD. So there are not as many people cheating as it seems.
    Third the two men in the report both have fully qualified Service Dogs. If you listen the the smaller man he said he is afraid his own dog will react to other dogs cause the dog does not do well around other dogs, but his interview was at/in front of a store. The man with the Great Dane was interviewed at a dog park and Monica knew his dog did not do well with other dogs. Zeus has been reviewed by the VA Hosp.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Nov 20, 2013

    @woold2, “I regularly take my dog to both of these stores in Oregon...If these stores do not want the dogs in them, then they should post a sign like all other sto[res]”

    Translation: “The store didn’t have a 3 foot high sign posted at every entrance in 100 point black font on white background, specifically excluding my service monkey, so I thought it was perfectly fine to...”

    Meanwhile, the rest of us follow the rules. Get over your self-entitlement. This Service Dog story is for you and others who share your selfish mentality.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Nov 20, 2013

    @NuGamma, please be patient with those of us who may question you.

    There are way too many healthy people (or those healed of their disability) taking advantage of those handicap placards, just like the people in this story taking advantage of service dogs.

    I have a friend in his 70's who just had both knees replaced. He used a handicap placard for a month and then threw his 5 Year handicap placard in the trash. He still walks slowly, but from further away from the door. Conversely, there are plenty of lazy, selfish people out there...like those in scamming with Service Dogs.

    Oh, and the best response for a handicap parking violator? "Don't let this be the only time that you put yourself in their place."

  • NuGamma Nov 20, 2013

    I am disabled. I have two (2) placards which were generated by my doctors and DMV for which I have paid dearly to obtain. I drive a sports car. I have been utterly shocked by the number of people and their rude remarks regarding what they don't see! Sometimes, as in my case, you'll NEVER SEE my disability, unless you follow me in the store and watch me hurridly move toward the electric shopping carts! I was at the hospital one night and heard this big commotion about my car being in a handicapped parking space!! The placards were clearly visible through the windows, hanging from my rear view mirror!! My daughter tells me these are "haters", but I just can't believe anyone with average intelligence could react so negatively. I have the right to drive the car I like as well as the next person!