SOUTH CAROLINA (WBTW) - A bill in the South Carolina statehouse would make it illegal to use a fake service animal.
Several states, including North Carolina currently have similar laws on the books.
The proposed bill says there has been an increase in the number of times when someone passes off an animal as service animal and goes on to explain how "business owners and other places of public accommodation become increasingly distrustful that an animal being represented to them as a service animal is, in fact, a service animal."
Richard Kaplan, founder and president of Canine Angels Service Dogs in Little River, said there needs to be more awareness of phony service animals.
"People who are legitimate service dog owners have gone through enormous amounts of training," Kaplan explained. "And the dogs themselves go through at least a year of training. It's not only training for obedience but it's training for specific task work depending on what the disability is."
Kaplan has seen firsthand the damage a misrepresented service animal can to do to the reputation of people who really need one.
"People who simply go online and slap a jacket on a dog and get a fake license and represent the dog as a service dog sometimes, and probably most times, don't realize what an injustice they're doing to legitimate ones," he added.
The proposed bill in South Carolina wants to make it a misdemeanor if someone misrepresents a service animal and includes the following fines:
1. for a first offense, an amount not less than three hundred fifty dollars and not more than one thousand dollars;
2. for a second offense, an amount not less than six hundred dollars and not more than one thousand dollars;
3. or a third or subsequent offense, an amount not less than one thousand dollars and not more than five thousand dollars, in addition to not more than ten hours of community service.
Kaplan said while the bill could help things may not change.
"The problem is human nature. People looking to squeeze every inch they can out of something to gain some sort of benefit to themselves without consideration for those that really need it," he said. "I'm a firm believer that until some government agency takes control of the service dog industry there will continue to be unlimited abuse and serious incidents."
He used the examples of people brining emotional support animals on planes or in restaurants and wreaking havoc on the business or harming other customers.
"Now the venue operator, the restaurant manager, hotel operator, etc.. is now very weary and puts extra pressure, even to the point of humiliation, to the legitimate ones who may be a disabled veteran who has gone through the program and it's just not fair," said Kaplan.
He also explained why the Americans with Disabilities act is misunderstood. "It's not a great law because it's not clear in a lot of ways and the people that misrepresent their dogs think it's a victimless crim and it isn't," Kaplan explained.
The bill has six sponsors and was referred to the Committee on Judiciary in early March. The bill also includes changes to restitution requirements if a service animal is harmed. You can read about those by clicking: here.
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