By Libby Smith
DENVER, Colo (CBS4) – Service dogs are becoming more and more common in the general public, ranging from diabetes dogs, to allergy dogs, to PTSD dogs. But the industry is largely unregulated leaving a lot of questions unanswered.
Sport is a service dog trained by a Colorado Springs company called Angel Service Dogs. He’s supposed to alert to the smell of peanuts. But a dog trainer, who did not train Sport but has trained a dog for Angel Service Dogs in the past, took a video of Sport at a grocery store where he did not alert when in the presence of bags of peanuts.
“I was really shocked at that particular time, even being five feet away, wasn’t showing any change in behavior at all,” said Kathryn Ross, a long time trainer.
Robyn Hurd was also shocked. She paid $17,000 for Sport. He was going to be a line of defense for her son who suffers from peanut allergies.
“I grabbed his leash and gave it to Sherry and said, ‘Here is your dog back.’ I said, ‘I want a refund. I want all my money back.’” Hurd told CBS4.
Hurd is not the only parent who’s asked for a refund from Angel Service Dogs. CBS4 has talked to a half a dozen parents across the nation who say that they spent tens of thousands of dollars for peanut sniffing dogs and ultimately the dogs didn’t work.
“I’ve never really seen her do a good alert. Ever,” said Christine Clifford from Massachusetts.
She bought an Angel Service Dog for her twin boys who also suffer from peanut allergies.
The parents have little recourse in the law. There is no definition for a service dog. The Americans With Disabilities Act comes the closest.
“The stipulations that they have is that it’s a dog, in very rare exceptions it can be a miniature horse. It has to be trained to perform a certain task for a person with a disability. And that’s about what you’ve got,” said Rachael Stafford, project director at the Rocky Mountain ADA Center in Colorado Springs.
There are no breed specifications, training requirements, or certification standards.
“So I could take my pet and tell anyone it’s a service dog?” CBS4’s Suzanne McCarroll asked Stafford.
“Technically yes, and this is where we’re having a lot of concern and a lot of push back,” she replied.
Stafford says the Rocky Mountain ADA Center gets the most calls about service dogs. A lot of them about whether businesses have to allow animals in their establishments.
“There are only two questions you can ask, which are, ‘Is this animal trained to perform a certain task?’ And if so, ‘What task?’ And that’s only if the service animal task is not obvious,” Stafford explained.
Angel Service Dogs stands by its training. The organization provided a video which it says shows Sport being trained and detecting nuts. Angel Service Dogs maintains that every dog that graduates its program is properly trained and that the dog owners may not have kept up that training.
As far as the law goes, Stafford would welcome some further guidance on the issue.
“You can see where it’s creating a lot of questions and holes for the common public, the business owner in particular,” she said.
But that guidance may be a long time coming. CBS4 checked with state and federal lawmakers for Colorado and there are no plans right now for further regulation of service dogs.
Libby Smith is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. If you have a story you’d like to tell CBS4 about, call 303-863-TIPS (8477) or visit the News Tips section.