8News Investigates: Dishonest Use of 'Service Dogs' - 8NEWS - WRIC | News Where You Live

8News Investigates: Dishonest Use of 'Service Dogs'

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) - Service dogs helping people with disabilities are usually given special privileges and are allowed to go places where pets are banned.
But what if you could turn your pet into a service animal in a matter of seconds? 

It's a growing trend that ABC 8News has been investigating for the past month.

We discovered that there aren't any laws in Virginia or nationwide regulating who can get a service dog, how they are trained or if they must meet certain criteria.

YouTube videos expose the problem - including one we discovered that shows two service dogs in training being approached and bullied by a larger dog in an Ikea.

This type of behavior infuriates Chesterfield mother Laurie Rogers and her son, David.

"Dogs are unpredictable creatures," she says.

Five years ago, David was almost killed in a car crash while serving in the Air Force in Germany. He almost didn't survive but after years of rehab, he's recovering mostly due to his dog, Jersey.

"I knew that I would need a well trained dog," Rogers says.

Jersey had 12 months of special training to learn how to perform common tasks for David.

"I take him for a walk every day and I give him a frozen peanut butter cone," he says, speaking through a type-to-text machine.

Jersey is a lot different from dogs at the local park but an explosion of fake badges and vests available online are allowing average pets to pose as well-trained service dogs.

It's all completely legal and it hurts the Charlottesville non-profit dog training group Service Dogs of Virginia.

"We follow a set of guidelines and standards but it's also legal for someone to train their own service dog," says Lauren Shaw. "It does [create problems]. People are taking advantage of that."

That's what people are doing.  Thousands of videos online show owners with their fake dogs entering businesses and pretending their animal is necessary.

"It's frustrating," Shaw says.  "It's sad that people would take advantage of it."

You can often spot the fakes. In many cases, the dog is unruly, doesn't handle crowds well, and may bark or growl.

Right now, there's no laws regulating service animals and folks have tested the system. But why?  In many cases, it's simply about getting to the front of the line.

We found a website selling vests and badges.  It promises to dramatically speed up your process of getting through airport security and entering stores without arguments or confrontations.

"There's a huge group of people who think it's fine because they want their pet to come to dinner with them," Shaw says.

That's why David and Laurie say things need to change now.

"There's less of a guarantee that they won't be a danger to the people around them," Laurie says.

The family wants laws put in place to protect themselves and legitimate dogs like Jersey. 

"We have licensing for so many things," Laurie says.  "I see no reason why you shouldn't have to have some form or at least standard that is provided for those dogs and the owners."

ABC 8News contacted several lawmakers in Virginia.  None of them were aware of this problem.

There's a few things business owners can do if you suspect there's a fake service dog on your property.

You can ask if the animal is a service dog required because of a disability. However, you cannot ask what the person's disability is.

If a service animal growls, barks or acts out of control, you can ask the owner to take the dog out.

While you can ban pets from your businesses, legal service dogs can not be excluded.

For more information on laws and regulations, visit here.

Copyright 2014 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond

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