DENVER (CBS4) – It could soon become a crime in Colorado to misrepresent a pet as a service animal.
Fake service dogs are becoming more and more common. There are even companies that sell phony certificates and vests, and lawmakers are now taking action.
Lisa Jenkins’ family has owned Gateway Inn in Grand Lake for 15 years. It’s a mountain retreat with stunning views, a rustic charm, and cozy rooms with fireplaces. It also has a no-pet policy that Jenkins says has become increasingly difficult to enforce.
“They say that their pet is their service animal,” Jenkins said.
Under federal law, Jenkins must — and does — accommodate service animals, but the law only allows her to ask what the animal is trained to do. So when a couple came in with a bulldog, for example, and said it detects seizures, she had to give them a room.
“They left for the day the next day, they left the bulldog in the room all day long,” Jenkins said. “The bulldog was barking, we know it’s a bulldog, it’s growling at the door, and of course our staff doesn’t want to go in the door, we’ve got guests complaining.”
“This is an affront to those with legitimate uses and legitimate disabilities,” said Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton.
Newell and Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, have introduced legislation aimed at cracking down on those who exploit the law.
“How pathetic is it to take advantage of somebody with a disability,” Newell said.
Their bill would make it a misdemeanor to pass off a companion animal as a service animal. It’s currently not a crime.
“The people that we are really after are the people who do this again and again and again, and those people who cannot be stopped easily now will be stopped in their tracks by this law,” Kagan said.
Kagan says it’s analogous to taking the last handicap parking spot and the penalty structure would be the same too — up to a $1,000 fine for a first offense.
“Something has to be done,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins says fake service dogs have become so common they’ve now cost her inn its allergy free status. If the bill passes, she and other business owners could now call police if they suspect a person is lying and police can ask a lot more than just what the animal is trained to do.
“It’s not fair to me and not fair to legitimate service animal owners,” Jenkins said.
The bill also applies to people who misrepresent themselves as trainers of service animals.
Only dogs and miniature horses qualify as service animals. They are not required to have vests or documentation and any place that is open to the public has to accommodate a service animal.