Nineteen states are cracking down on laws regarding service animals after people tried to pass off their pets as service dogs. Texas, however, is not one of them.
Trainers with The Dog Alliance said legitimate service animals take hours of training to prepare to be in public.
“At least 1,000 hours that we put into each dog, at least, that's the minimum,” said Debi Krakar, the executive director. “It takes a lot of time to practice out in public, so your dog is not fazed by the environment around them.”
The issue begins when a dog is not a service animal and acts out.
“If they come up to a real service dog that is trained, and they're barking and lunging and growling, then we have a handler that now has a dog that wants to attack or has been attacked, and that creates a lot of stress and anxiety,” Krakar explained.
She said she had a client go through a similar situation.
“For us, we're placing dogs with veterans that have post-traumatic stress, so going out in public is already stressful, and then you add in the complication that they're worried a dog is going to attack theirs,” Krakar said, explaining the dog that was once supposed to help is now creating stress.
Texas law protects those with disabilities to bring service animals into public places. However, people are abusing that law.
“But what ends up happening is a lot of people who don't have a specially trained service animal kind of rely on that system to be able to bring their pets to places wherever they want, claiming that they're service animals,” lawyer Carolyn Cadena explained. “And you can purchase vests and leashes that claim as much online, and a lot of people are doing that."
Business owners are limited to asking whether the person has a disability, and what task the animal has been trained to perform.
If they try to ask for any proof or paperwork, then they are on the line for a lawsuit or being charged with a misdemeanor.
Cadena said the law, in theory, should charge those pretending their pet is a service animal as well, but the wording of the provision is incorrect.
“It basically says a person who has a service animal may not hold that animal out to be a specially trained service animal, but, by definition, all service animals have special training, so there's really not an enforcement mechanism there,” said Cadena.
She explained that if people want to see punishment for those posing their animals as service dogs, then legislature needs to intervene and change the language.