The military community often unites to unmask stolen valor, but there is another form of deception threatening veterans: people with fake service animals.
Here’s the criteria for a service animal, as provided by Operation Delta Dog:
Service dogs are not pets. Once an animal completes service-dog training, it is permitted by federal law to accompany its handler into stores, restaurants, hotels, and other public spaces where pets are typically not allowed. In most cases, service dogs wear harnesses or vests that identify them as working animals. In order to qualify as a service dog as defined by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), the animal must master basic obedience training and also complete at least three tasks for the person that the person cannot otherwise do for themselves.
Service dogs likes those trained at Operation Delta Dog are popular among military veterans coping with physical disabilities or PTSD. But, just as with stolen valor cases, a couple bad apples passing their regular pets off as service animals are spoiling the bunch.
For example, a Wisconsin woman named Diana Moyer was booted from a McDonalds for bringing along her therapy kangaroo, Jimmy. Moyer stated that she relied on Jimmy to cope with emotional distress. However, federal law only grants service animals the ability to enter any building. Therapy animals like Jimmy don’t have the same leeway.
Moyer’s case could be chalked up to a misinterpretation of the law, but mistaken or fake service animals cause businesses to mistrust and turn away real service dogs. Last September, a military service dog was removed from an airplane mere hours after winning the dog of the year award. Other veterans have been kicked out of restaurants, clinics and public transportation for simply bringing their service dogs as well.
To address the issue, the state governments in Maine, Virginia, Arizona, Hawaii, New York, and Puerto Rico are considering passing bills that would penalize fakers for taking advantage of laws meant to help disabled Americans. The laws would help the public understand the difference between a service and therapy animal and come down hard on frauds.
Florida has already made it illegal to bring fake service animals into public buildings, punishable of up to 60 days in jail. Other states are kicking out the option of free identification cards for service dog owners.