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Fake Service Animals Could Lead to Jail

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A new Florida law taking effect July 1 will make it a misdemeanor to pass off an unqualified pet as a service animal.

The law, proposed by state Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, will make misrepresenting a dog as a service dog a second-degree misdemeanor. The offense is punishable with up to 60 days in jail and 30 hours of community service for an organization that services people with disabilities, to be completed in less than six months.

The law will also make it illegal to deny accommodations to or discriminate against anyone accompanied by a service animal, which the law defines as dogs or miniature horses.

Nick Kutsukos, who has been training service dogs for more than 20 years and owns Elite K9 Academy in Jupiter, said the law was long overdue.

“There’s no national certification,” he said. “People buy vests online and sign a waiver saying their dog is trained.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act’s website says some service dogs may wear special collars or harnesses and have certifications, but no one may ask for documentation to provide services because the disabled person is unlikely to have it with them.

The website also says a person may ask the dog’s handler whether it is required because of a disability and what tasks the dog has been trained to do.

Kutsukos, 79, said certain tell-tale signs can help spot an impostor.

“The behavior is going to tell you,” he said.

Kutsukos said a service dog needs to undergo more than 100 hours of training and will not bark excessively, tug or pull. Most dogs will also have a patch on the vest from the academy where they trained.

“If you just have a vest without a patch, I almost guarantee they ordered the vest online,” he said.