Today, HB2992 will be discussed in Texas. The bill has been proposed to help the fake service dog issue by making it a misdemeanor if someone puts service dog identification or equipment on a dog that isn’t a service dog. When they do that, they are either misrepresenting themselves as having a disability when they don’t, or if they do have a disability, they could still be faking their undertrained or untrained dog as their service dog. I was interviewed by NBC5 Ben Russell regarding this issue. Read the article and see the video here:
Overall, what do I think? I love that it is being recognized as an issue by politicians and think it is a baby step toward a solution.
I wrote a letter to Rep. Victoria Neave’s office. She is who authored this bill.
This was the letter I wrote:
Dear Representative Victoria Neave:
My name is Jessica Naert. I am a resident of Denton, TX, a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, very involved in my community, and I am also blind. I have a wonderful guide dog, Makiko, from Guide Dogs for the Blind and am very active in the guide dog and service dog communities.
I am very appreciative that Rep. Victoria Neave’s office has taken the issue of “fake service dogs” so seriously and is taking action against fake service dogs by proposing a bill that would make it a misdemeanor by putting some sort of identification on a pet that would identify it as a service animal, when it is not indeed a service animal. I feel this is a good “first step” towards making improvements in the great State of Texas toward diminishing this issue.
We call it a “fake service dog” issue but really it is not the dog that is committing the offense or faking anything, it is most often a person without a disability wanting to bring their pet animal with them everywhere. Sometimes it is a person who might have a disability but doesn’t have a dog that is trained specific tasks to mitigate their disability, as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires.
When someone is so ignorant to do this, it is harmful for us who have legitimate disabilities and have legitimate service dogs in many ways. First, most often these “fake service dogs” don’t have the level of basic obedience and public access skills, aren’t very well socialized and the environments that their owners put them in cause anxiety and bad behaviors, such as urinating or defecating in places of business or restaurants, incessantly barking, attacking others, damaging goods, etc. Often times when one of these fake service dogs enter a place of business, they put a bad taste in the business owners mouths and then when I go in the place of business with my well-trained service dog, I may be denied access because of that bad experience or experience significant harassment. This is just not fair. It also puts our service dogs at serious risk. There have been many stories of “fake service dogs” attacking a legitimate service dog. Can you imagine being blind and just hearing this dog growling and attacking your dog and often times being pretty helpless to stop it because you can’t see what’s going on? Many times this kind of trauma significantly affects that dog’s ability to be in many types of situations, especially if dogs are around, and tragically the guide dog could need to be retired due to serious trauma or anxiety, physical and/or emotional. This also of course affects the person with a disability’s emotional well-being and can affect their livelihood for years because they aren’t able to live the life they lived with their service animal. Waiting lists for many service dog organizations are years long.
In the past several years, we have seen a steady increase in people faking a service dog. Something needs to be done and that is why I am so grateful that we are making baby steps toward resolving it for Texans. It is very difficult to resolve this issue because state codes can’t be more restrictive than federal law (the ADA). So, before I go further, I want to express my deep gratitude that your office is taking this issue so seriously and caring about Texans with disabilities who use service animals.
I do have one concern and would like to make a few suggestions as well. My main concern – how will it be enforced? As I understand it, any time an individual has an animal in a restaurant wearing some sort of identification or equipment that indicates it is a service animal, it could possibly be flagged or reported as a possible fake. This may be what needs to happen but I also can see that this can get pretty sticky because there are many people with invisible disabilities and general society isn’t very knowledgeable of invisible disabilities, so they could automatically assume because someone doesn’t have a visible disability, they are faking. I am a person with a visual impairment but it is not immediately obvious. Would I get reported? Additionally, once it does get reported, how will it be investigated? Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, businesses can only ask the two questions: 1) Is it a service animal? 2) What tasks was the dog trained to perform to mitigate a disability? These are just a few questions I would like you all to consider regarding enforcement. Protecting service dog handlers and businesses from fake service dogs is something that has to be done and more protections need to be in place, but they also need to be careful to still protect the civil rights of people with service animals and their privacy.
I would also like you to consider adding additional verbiage to the bill. By stating that the person would be committing a misdemeanor by falsely representing their pet as a service animal by some sort of equipment or identification, you are implying if a person without a disability brings in a dog as their “service animal”, they are faking a disability. However, I think that it would be so much stronger if it was specifically stated that faking a disability to get an animal access and/or portraying an animal as a service animal that isn’t task trained to mitigate their disability are both criminal offenses.
Please feel free to share this as needed.
Again, thank you for your time and for caring about something that is so important to people with disabilities. Our service dogs are so important to our livelihoods, our independence, and our freedom, and fake service dogs make it so much harder for us.
Jessica Naert, M.S., CRC