AUSTIN (KXAN) — While Austin is a dog friendly city, man’s best friend isn’t allowed everywhere. But some people are taking advantage of the system and claiming pets as service dogs.
Now, a new law aims to crackdown on false representation of these service animals.
House Bill 4164 went into effect in September, and it increases the penalty for people misrepresenting their dogs as service animals. Fines for violating the law have increased from $300 to $1,000 and 30 hours of community service.
“We get more false identification than we do true identification,” said Donny Castro-Conde, owner of Dog Training Elite in Austin.
Castro-Conde trains service dogs and he knows the importance of their roll for the people they serve. He says when people approach service dogs like a normal pet it can be detrimental to the work they do.
“When you do have that distraction from the public it makes the handler’s job much more difficult to maintain their dogs attention on them for their disability,” said Castro-Conde.
Castro-Conde was happy to see the new law go into effect this September.
“That false identification is absolutely illegal,” Castro-Conde said.
According to the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The tasks performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.
“I know it has become a problem for those people who really need those animals to help them get around,” said Texas Rep. Vikki Goodwin who helped get the new law passed. “They do provide a very valuable service, but they can be interrupted by other pets that aren’t trained.”
Castro-Conde has trained many dogs that now serve as service dogs, while professional trainers can be a good way to make sure the dog gets the best training, people with disabilities have the right to train the dog themselves and are not required to use a professional service dog training program, according to the ADA.
The ADA doesn’t require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag or specific harness. You are also not allowed to ask for documentation or proof that the animal has been certified, trained or licensed as a service animal.
“We have to trust that that person saying they have a trained service dog is being honest,” said Castro-Conde. “You can’t ask for proof, you can’t ask them to show you their tasks you can’t ask them what disability that person has.”
A business or state/local government can ask someone to remove their service animal if:
- The dog is not housebroken.
- The dog is out of control, and the person cannot get the dog under control.
Castro-Conde said some people might use certificates to title their dog as a service dog, but a certificate does not certify anything, the dog still must serve someone with a disability.
According to the ADA, ff you are working at a business or state/local government facility and it is unclear to you whether someone’s dog is a service dog, you may ask for certain information using two questions:
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
For more information on service dogs and the rules behind them click here.