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4:22 AM Tue, Oct. 23rd

Editorial: Half solutions won’t solve ‘fake’ service animal problem

It’s very likely you know someone who has a pet that they misrepresent as a service animal. If an apartment complex does not allow pets, voila, this dog is a service animal specializing in mental health and the apartment management must let him or her live there.

Or when you take a quick trip to the grocery store and find it difficult to navigate your cart down the aisle when every sixth person has a dog wearing a service animal vest.

My, sure are a lot of people needing assistance.

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, has proposed a bill that would allow judges to impose fines of up to $250 on anyone who fraudulently misrepresents an animal as a “service animal” or “service animal in training” to anyone who operates a business or recreation site open to the public.

We admire the intention, and agree there is a problem; however, we see this as a waste of time and effort until they figure out how to enforce it.

There are legitimate needs for service animals that go beyond the traditional seeing-eye, and hearing-ear dogs.

Far too many of our veterans are returning from the Middle East with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Way too many veterans are committing suicide. In 2014, the most recent year statistics are available from the Veterans Administration, 108 of the 259 veterans who committed suicide in Arizona were by veterans 54 or younger.

Diabetics sometimes have service animals trained to alert when their owner’s blood-sugar levels drop; yet, you can’t tell just by looking at them what’s wrong and why they need a service animal.

In cases such as these, a service animal can be a lifesaver. Their animals have had the training and are able to help when the situation calls for it.

When other folks order a “service animal” vest online and slap it on their dogs, they make it harder for those with documented needs by planting the seed of doubt in business owners who know some people are abusing the law, they just don’t know which ones.

It’s a selfish act to pretend you have a need. Instead, be grateful you don’t suffer from PTSD or other disorders and you didn’t witness the horrors our veterans did in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The problem is Kavanagh has no way to enforce this proposed law. There is no licensing requirement for service animals, or one certifying group, so there is no way for a business owner to tell which service animals are legitimate, and which are not. How are courts supposed to decide who is telling the truth?

It’s a shame that some people abuse this law. But until Kavanagh comes up with a legitimate means of enforcing it, this is nothing but noise that allows the real problem to fester.

Do the hard work that’s necessary if you want this problem to be addressed. Service animals should be licensed, required to meet standards, and a business owner should be able to tell at a glance which dogs are legitimate (say a state-issued vest with the license number clearly printed for all to see), and which belong to owners who are abusing the system.

Until that happens, the problem will continue, with or without Kavanagh’s proposal.

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