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Weekly Blog

California’s Penalties for Using Fraudulent Service Animals

Individuals who pass their untrained dogs or emotional support pets off as service dogs are a threat to the service dog community. 

This week, we will look at some of the penalties pertaining to the use of fraudulent service dogs. 

First, let’s review what a service dog is.

What is a service dog?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service dog as, “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.” 

A service dog is rigorously trained to aid a person with a specific disability. They have undergone meticulous house training and behavior training and are protected by the ADA. 

There are service dogs for all different kinds of disabilities, and each one is trained with a specific skill set to help with the impairments that come from living with a disability. 

Emotional support animals (ESA) and therapy animals are not the same as service animals. ESA’s and therapy animals are not protected under ADA laws, and are not trained in the same way that service dogs are.

Why do fraudulent service dogs pose a threat?

Posing an untrained dog as a service dog gives real service dogs a bad reputation and further exacerbates the challenges that service dog owners are working hard to overcome. 

Lack of training leads to problems in public spaces. Sniffing, urinating, barking, growling and other disruptive behaviors are normal dog behaviors that service dogs are trained not to perform. Service dogs have impeccable manners and do not exhibit these normal dog behaviors while they are on duty.

The reality is that negative experiences with fraudulent service dogs further stereotypes and discrimination against real handlers and their service dogs. 

Sadly, it is fairly easy for a person to fraudulently pass their dog as a service animal. For the general public, it’s difficult to distinguish a real service animal from a fake one

Legally, people can only ask a handler two questions: 

  1. Is the service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Anybody can buy service dog vests, tags, patches etc, to make their dog look more official. Online registrations also exist, but this is not a requirement by the ADA and does not make your dog an official service dog.

Penalties for using fraudulent service animals

There are 23 states that enact penalties for the use of fraudulent service animals, including California. Most of these states carry similar laws that have penalties in the form of fines. 

California’s law is penal code 365.7. This law specifically states that “any person who knowingly and fraudulently represents himself…to be the owner of a [service animal] shall be guilty of misdemeanor.” 

In California, you can be charged with a misdemeanor or even get arrested for using a fake service animal. 

Although fake service dogs are illegal, it is still difficult to crack down the laws.

Assembly bill AB-468 in California is cracking down on emotional support animals being fraudulently passed as service animals. This provision signed by Governor Newsom early this year, helps combat the misleading notion that ESAs are protected under federal law or are the same as service animals.

This assembly bill has three main components:

  1. A business or person that sells an emotional support animal must notify the buyer in writing that the animal is not qualified to be a service animal or protected by the rights that service animals have.
  2. A person or business that sells or supplies certificates, vests or other attire for ESAs must provide the same written notice to the buyer.
  3. A health care professional cannot provide documentation about a person's needs for an ESA given circumstances. 

Final Thoughts

Fraudulent service animals are a real problem for the service animal community. It is hard to know if people passing their ESA’s or regular pets as service animals are aware of the potential harm they can cause. Hopefully, with more education people will begin to become more aware of their actions. 


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