JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Trained service dogs can be a life-saver for those who rely on them for help, but there are fraudsters who pretend their dog is a Service Dog.
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a Service Dog as an animal trained to perform tasks for someone with a disability and those tasks must be related to the person’s disability. Organizations such as Champ Assistance Dogs help place trained service dogs with people with disabilities. The idea is the trained dogs can help their owners live a more fulfilling life.
Some business owners have complained anyone can pretend to have a service dog and some businesses fear they’ll face a public relations backlash or even a lawsuit if they challenge anyone they suspect someone does not have a disability.
“A lot of people are kind of getting, and I hate to use the word, tired but they are just frustrated with not knowing what they can do, businesses don’t know what they can ask and so we’re trying to provide guidance on that,” said State Representative Chrissy Sommer (R-St. Charles).
State Rep. Sommer has introduced a bill that would add clarity to how a Service Dog is defined. She believes House Bill 1369 would also provide greater clarity for how businesses and landlords should respond if customers or tenants inform them they have a Service Dog.
The bill allows the owner with a psychiatric disability, medical condition, or developmental disability recognized in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders to be eligible for Service Dog benefits.
“We want to protect those that need you to know they need these Service Dogs and make sure that they can have fulfilling lives,” Rep. Sommer said.
Sommer believes the proposed legislation would help those who truly rely on a Service Dog to live a more independent life.
“When they can’t even go out with their dog who, that’s why they have the dog is to go to work or go to a restaurant or go shopping and they have other you know dogs that are riding in a cart that’s jumping and people are petting it,” Rep. Sommer said, “those aren’t Service Dogs those are companions and I mean I have dogs I’ve had dogs my entire life and I know what a dog can do for a person but there’s a difference between a pet and a dog that is trained to be a Service Dog.”
It is currently a misdemeanor in Missouri to misrepresent yourself as disabled in order to access the benefits of a Service Dog. Representative Sommer’s proposed legislation would include similar penalties.