Hawaii group launches campaign against fake service dogs

Hawaii group launches campaign against fake service dogs
Updated: Feb. 23, 2017 at 3:57 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - We've all seen them: Dogs that appear to be clearly a beloved pet being carted into stores and eateries wearing "service vests."

The problem of fake service dogs is growing, and one local service dog organization is taking a stand on the issue.

Hawaii Fi-Do Service Dogs is launching a new ad campaign about the importance of service dogs to their owners.

"I've been in restaurants where people are there with their fake service dog and their dog will come out from under the table and bark at us," said Larry Bigelow, who has severe spinal osteoporosis and spinal fractures and uses a service dog.

Even though there's no law against fake service dogs, falsely identifying a dog as a service dog is "kind of like parking in handicap parking," he said.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, places that service the public must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities.

State health rules prohibit animals, except service animals, from being in places that serve food and beverage.

But the state law has no teeth and is rarely enforced, which means the problem has been allowed to grow.

Bigelow's service dog, Buzz, gives him stability and support,

He said people who purchase fake service dog vests and IDs are disrespecting people with disabilities.

Restaurant managers, meanwhile, say there are rules, but dealing with a suspicious canine can be uncomfortable -- so many merchants ignore them.

"You don't want to ask the wrong question. That's the fear. You can't open yourself up to potential liability," said Big City Diner general manager Michael Farias.

The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has a list of questions that you can and cannot ask those who say they're using service dogs.

"You can't say are you disabled, you can't say prove to me that is a service dog, you can't say give me identification," said Hawaii Fi-Do Service Dogs Executive Director Jim Kennedy. "There are two questions that a person can ask: Is this a service dog required because of a disability and the other is what specific tasks has this dog been trained to perform?"

Kennedy also says therapy animals and comfort animals are not considered service animals.

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