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3:02 AM Sun, Sept. 23rd

Editorial: Service dog legislation needed, but onerous

Service dogs seem to be fairly common nowadays. Question: Is that dog you see “really” a service dog?

The state Senate, on a party-line vote Thursday, approved HB 2588. It would make it illegal for someone to “fraudulently misrepresent” a pet as a legitimate “service animal.” Violators would be subject to fines of up to $250. The measure, first approved by the House 50-10 in February, received a 17-11 approval in the Senate this past week; it now goes back to the House for OK on final changes.

Lawmakers are hoping to keep dogs out of grocery stores, restaurants and airports if they have no legal right to be there. Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, says, “Right now it is perfectly legal to buy a $20 vest on Amazon.com, put it on your pet and take it into a store.”

Senators in opposition remind that, while business owners cannot ask the person about their disability, they may ask the owner to remove their animal — even a service dog — if it poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. This also applies to animals that are out of control, not housebroken or “fundamentally alters the nature of the public place or the goods, services or activities provided.”

They contend law enforcement should not be involved.

What the opposition misses here are the key words of “health,” “not housebroken,” and “alters the … goods or services.”

Like Kavanagh, we do not want to place our groceries, for instance, where a service dog has sat, slathered or is not housebroken. “I don’t want some dog being wheeled around a supermarket in the same cart I’ll put my food in later to be able to stay just because he’s not misbehaving,” Kavanagh said.

What both sides are missing is what constitutes a “service dog,” a “therapy” dog or a “comfort” dog? Telling the difference is difficult and may soon be a big deal, if the bill passes and the governor signs it.

An act of “service” for their human may range from opening doors, retrieving items, guiding, and detecting stress/PTSD, even blood-sugar levels, among other tasks. This can be documented. The other dogs are in more of a gray area, giving “therapy” to the owner, while what we call “comfort” dogs are more of a companion only.

Service dogs — for which no national registry exists — go through months of training and are often identifiable from their special vests but more so their behavior and tasks they perform. (Currently the Americans With Disabilities Act does not require service dogs to wear identifying tags, vests or other equipment.)

And, the use of fake service dog products — such as those vests available online — cheapens the dogs that are “real” service dogs; though, owners of the imposters would note that any dog provides some sort of service. The challenge is that the comfort dogs wearing fake vests can sometimes be seen in grocery stores or other places where they really do not belong.

The debate comes when the public judges or questions the presence of dogs, often thinking or saying aloud “I don’t see a disability.”

This legislation is needed, even if only to clarify that your pet better be a true service dog if you want to take it into a business.

Short of establishing a national registry or an official ID for the genuine service dogs, reality is it may go down as another law that is difficult-to-impossible to enforce.

Editor's Note - This editorial has been updated to clarify that the Americans With Disabilities Act does not require service dogs to wear identifying tags, vests or other equipment.