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When Fido is a fake: State House considers bill banning bogus service dogs

Advocates are pushing for a bill that would impose fines on people who present their pets as service animals when they aren’t properly trained.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Advocates are pushing for a bill that would impose fines on people who present their pets as service animals when they aren’t properly trained.

Sometimes Fido can be a fake. That’s the claim from proponents of a bill at the State House intended to crack down on people who use bogus service dogs to get special treatment for themselves.

NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, a nonprofit based in Princeton that has trained more than 1,700 service dogs and paired them with people who have disabilities, has been pushing for a bill that would impose fines on people who present their pets as service animals when they aren’t properly trained.

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The organization gathered several service dogs and their owners outside the State House Tuesday afternoon before the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the bill, “An Act Relative to the Misrepresentation of a Service Animal.”

Proponents have collected more than 2,000 signatures on the bill, said Cathy Zemaitis, development director for NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans.

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The organization is decrying dogs outfitted with imitation vests or identification cards purchased online and dogs trained by an individual or group unauthorized to certify them. The organization also doesn’t consider dogs to be legitimate service dogs if they just provide emotional support or comfort to their owners, according to a statement from NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans.

Real service dogs are “rigorously trained in task work and are purpose bred for temperament, soundness, trainability and demeanor,” Zemaitis said in written testimony to the Judiciary Committee.

The training process can take up to two years, she said.

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The bill, sponsored by State Representative Kimberly N. Ferguson, a Republican from Holden, would also protect disabled people from being scammed by those selling untrained dogs as service animals.

“The passage of this bill is extremely important to our clients, as well as to all individuals with disabilities that face ongoing challenges because of the problem, and now proliferation, of fake service dogs,” said Gerry DeRoche, chief executive officer at NEADS/Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans.

A group including service dog teams stood outside the State House on Tuesday.

David L. Ryan/Globe staff

A group including service dog teams stood outside the State House on Tuesday.

Alyssa Meyers can be reached at alyssa.meyers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ameyers_.
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