HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A color mailer showing up in some Hawaii mailboxes offering to turn pets into registered "service dogs" for a fee is a scam, advocates for consumers and the disabled said Monday.
First of all, the government doesn't require service dogs to be registered.
But the Oregon-based company called U.S. Service Dog Registration is trying to get pet owners to pay hundreds of dollars for certificates and identity cards that are worthless, according to consumer protection officials.
"They are basically telling people to violate the law by doing this," said Lou Erteschik, executive director of the Hawaii Disability Rights Center.
He got upset when Hawaii News now showed him a 15-page color glossy brochure that's arriving in Hawaii mailboxes.
The mailer claimed customers can "legally turn" their family pets into service dogs if they pay the company anywhere from $69 to $197, plus $25 extra for rush delivery. In return, customers will receive service dog ID cards and certificates, as well as dog vests and special leashes.
Problem is: there is no state or federal process for certifying service dogs.
"This, to me, creates a backlash and it sets back the disability movement, because these people are obviously fakers and the people who use their service are likely to be fakers," Erteschik said.
Legitimate service dogs help disabled people across Hawaii each day.
But others try to claim that their family dogs are service animals, trying to get them access to public facilities.
"At its core, it's deceptive advertising at the least. At the worst, it's another scam," said Gregory Dunn, president and CEO of the Hawaii Better Business Bureau office known as Hawaii's BBB.
Dunn said his office's research indicates the Oregon-based company behind the brochure has a history of get-rich-quick schemes.
"And it's unfortunate that scams such as this and deceptive marketing lead people to believe that it's OK to represent your family pet as something that it's not," Dunn said.
There are at least 20 companies across the country that falsely claim to give customers service dog certification or registration for a fee, some of them with official sounding names such as Office Service Dog Registry, Certified Service Dog and American Service Dogs, Dunn said. They may sell customers certificates, but the documentation is worthless, Dunn said, since there is no federal or state certification process.
There's a proposal at the legislature to make it a crime for people to fraudulently claim their dog is a service animal.
"People are now being able to get fraudulent badges and certificates saying 'This is an actual service animal to help me with a disability' when there's no such thing, they just want to be able to bring their dog into the restaurants or on the plane or everything else," said Maui State Rep.Angus McKelvey, who chairs the State House consumer protection committee.
McKelvey, who's a dog owner, proposed the bill that would make it a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine, if someone fakes that they have a service dog.