Lawmakers consider fine for fake service dogs

Federal law allows people with disabilities to take service animals into restaurants and other businesses, but some are concerned that the law is being abused.

A bill currently in the state legislature calls for a $1,000 fine if a non-disabled person exploits an animal as a service animal. The bill is up for a public hearing at the State Capitol Friday at 10 a.m.

Cheryl Wilkinson is a military veteran of 23 years. After suffering several injuries, the Waikiki resident started having seizures.

“I don’t look like the generalized wounded warrior that people perceive that we all look like,” she said.

Wilkinson and her bichon frise, Peaches, went through training to certify the dog as a seizure-detecting service animal, but some have questioned whether Peaches is just a pet.

“They don’t understand what service animals are for,” Wilkinson said. “They don’t think she is a medical device, just like a wheel chair… She has saved my life at least three times.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with either mental or physical impairment that impacts their daily life. The federal law is also designed to help give people with disabilities access to public places, and that includes using service animals.

“The ADA has a very limited definition of a service dog, which is any dog that is individually trained to assist a person with a disability and performing tasks,” said Francine Wai with Disability & Communication Access Board. “The law says the animal has to perform a specific task that is related to you overcoming your disability.”

The law doesn’t include a requirement for training or certification, but businesses have specific guidelines on what they can ask when an animal comes inside.

“The establishment can ask the patron if in fact that is an animal that is required because of a disability and what task is the animal trained to perform,” Wai said.

And there are specific rules about how a service dog should behave. “The animal should not be barking, should not be eating, it should be on a leash or a tether, it should be under the control, or the voice control of the individual who is the person with the disability,” Wai said.

“This is for people with disabilities, and when they are abusing it they are breaking the law,” Wilkinson said.

Service dogs should not be confused with therapy dogs that provide emotional support. Therapy dogs are not covered under federal ADA laws and fall under a different set of rules on a case-by-case basis.

For more information, call the Dept. of Justice’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TDD) or click here.

To read HB1420 in its entirety, click here.

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