Assistance Dog Group Raises Concern of People Abusing Need for Help
Two weeks ago, New Hope’s Can-Do-Canines held a graduation ceremony. It was the final step of a two-year process that pairs trained service dogs with people who have disabilities.
That was a happy celebration, but Wednesday at the State Capitol, employees of Can-Do-Canines and some of the recipients of their service dogs weren’t smiling.
“I have a disability, and it wasn’t a choice that I got to bring my dog with,” said Beth Kantor of Plymouth. “It’s a necessity.”
Kantor has had a Can-Do-Canine service dog for six years due to multiple sclerosis. She said there are people out there who abuse the privilege.
“People want to bring their dog with, in purses and in strollers, and it’s easy for them to do now,” she said. “The internet, I looked up today, you can buy a vest for $6.00.”
She’s referring to vests sold online — which anyone can purchase — that indicate your pet is a service dog.
“This is a huge problem for people with disabilities, having fake dogs enter public places distracts our dogs, causes them to not be able to do their jobs properly,” said Alan Peters, Executive Director of Can-Do-Canines.
Now, state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would punish people who misrepresent their dogs as a service dog.
“This legislation would make impersonating a service animal a petty misdemeanor for the first offense, and a misdemeanor for subsequent offenses,” said Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids.
DFL Senator Ann Rest of New Hope is one of the lawmakers lending her support.
“We’re really trying to send a message to the public that it’s gonna be a crime if they do that, continue to do that,” Rest said. “And right now, the law’s very vague.”
Whether that law receives clarity one day remains to be seen.
“It’s a problem,” Kantor said. “And it’s sad that the wants of people interfere with the need of my ability to really function in this world.”
If the legislation is passed, it would allow business owners to post a notice saying it’s illegal for a person to knowingly misrepresent an animal as a service dog.
Business owners would also be trained on questions they can ask to determine whether a dog is a service animal.