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New Arizona law will impose fines for false service-animal claims

This Thursday, April 12, 2018, photo pictures a woman at a funeral home with her dog (Mike Krebs/Muskegon Chronicle via AP)

This Thursday, April 12, 2018, photo pictures a woman at a funeral home with her dog (Mike Krebs/Muskegon Chronicle via AP)

PHOENIX -- If you've been sneaking Fluffy into the grocery store with the claim that’s your service dog, you’ll soon have to make other arrangements for your pet.

Without comment, Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday signed legislation that makes it illegal to "fraudulently misrepresent'' an animal as a service animal to anyone who operates a public place or business. The law allows judges to impose fines of up to $250 for each violation.

The legislation is the culmination of efforts by Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, to keep pets out of places that they don't belong, and the senator doesn't care whether they're well behaved.

"I don't want some dog being wheeled around a supermarket in the same cart I'll put my food in later,'' he told his colleagues during a hearing earlier this month.

But it remains to be seen whether the law has any teeth.

The Americans with Disabilities Act does not allow a business owner to ask anyone who is accompanied by an animal about the person's handicap.

Instead, just two questions are permitted: Is the animal a service animal? What tasks has it been trained to do?

If the pet owner provides the right answers, the conversation stops there, and the animal – in Arizona, only dogs and miniature horses can be legally documented as service animals -- is presumed to be a service animal and allowed inside with its owner.

The legislation drew some opposition from those who argued the law could embolden business owners to challenge people who have legitimate service animals, especially when a disability is not obvious. For example, service animals are available to help individuals with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by "preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.''

Some lawmakers also questioned the need for the new law, noting that, under existing statutes, service animals can be removed for bad behavior, not only if the animal is a direct threat to the health or safety of others, but also if the animal is not housebroken or is out of control.

Arizona law also already allows businesses to ban any service animal that "fundamentally alters the nature of the public place or the goods, services or activities provided.”

The new law will take effect 91 days after this year's legislative session ends.