Jail time and fines for owners of ‘fake’ service animals?

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Fines and even jail time – that’s what a Hawaii state senator is proposing for people who try to pass off their pets as service animals.

Advocates for service animals said the measure is much needed to protect those with disabilities, but critics said it would be too hard to enforce.

Hawaii Island Sen. Russell Ruderman told KHON2 a gray area in the Americans with Disabilities Act has allowed people to abuse this law. He agrees it’ll be hard to enforce but argues at the very least, it will spark a conversation.

“This is a fast growing problem of people bringing their comfort animals and their pets into public places and claiming it’s a service animal, leave me alone,” Ruderman said.

Right now there’s no consequence for that so Ruderman wants to make it a misdemeanor for someone to falsely represent their dog as a service animal.

“They’ve created some resentment some push back from people who think dogs shouldn’t be in certain places,” Ruderman said.

The ADA defines a service animal as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”

Hawaii Fi-Do Service Dogs specializes in training man’s best friend to help people with diagnosed disabilities.

Exec. Director Jim Kennedy told KHON2 several states across the country have already passed similar laws.

“It’s an important first step to start a really long needed education program in the state of Hawaii about the problem with fake service dogs,” Kennedy said.

However, the state Attorney General’s office said a law would be challenging to enforce because an investigator would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the animal wasn’t trained to be a service dog.

Current ADA laws limit what business owners can ask.

“You can’t ask for demonstrations or proof of formal training,” Kennedy said.


What questions can a covered entity’s employees ask to determine if a dog is a service animal?In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.


Ruderman and Hawaii Fi-do agree enforcement would be difficult, but they believe it could help crack down on the issue.

“I think most people obey laws whether they’re enforced or not,” Ruderman said.

“Having law as the foundation, as the stake in the ground for that education process is a lot more effective than just making an emotional appeal,” Kennedy said.

We’re told it would be up to Congress to change current ADA laws in order to require people with service animals to provide proof of the dog’s training.

This bill will be heard in front of the judiciary committee Tuesday morning.

We’ll let you know where it goes during this legislative sessionTrack this bill online at: https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=2461&year=2018

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