It's a sad commentary on today's society, but Missouri needs to pass legislation aimed at curbing the increase of fake service animals.
Rep. Chrissy Sommer, R-St. Charles, has proposed a bill that would make it a Class C misdemeanor to "knowingly misrepresent a dog as a service dog." Subsequent violations would constitute Class B misdemeanors.
The Americans with Disabilities Act allows accommodations for people with certain needs/disabilities to have service animals. They help the blind as well as people with medical conditions, psychiatric or developmental disabilities. They detect blood sugar problems with diabetics. They also serve as emotional support animals.
It's this last category that's often abused. It's often dogs that are the vehicles for abusing the law, but we've seen stories about everything from emotional support coyotes to squirrels to ducks.
The New York Times reported in 2011, the National Service Animal Registry, a for-profit company that sells official-looking vests and certificates for owners, had 2,400 service and emotional support animals in its registry. As of last summer, the number is nearly 200,000, the paper reported.
Other states have implemented or are looking to implement bills similar to the one Missouri is considering.
The problem is twofold: First, abusing ADA accommodations for service animals casts doubt on the use of service animals in general. Real service animals are well-trained and serve an important need.
Second, the use of fake service animals often poses — at the very least — an inconvenience to people on buses, in restaurants and other public places where such animals are allowed. At most, it can be dangerous to people in public places. In one instance, at least, someone was reportedly mauled by a "service dog" that wasn't trained to be a service dog.
We believe Sommer's bill can help with this growing problem, and we hope the Legislature gives it swift passage.