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Montanan drafts legislation to penalize fake service dogs

Montanan drafts legislation to penalize fake service dogs

You can add Montana to the list of states that may soon be cracking down on fake service dogs.

It's a growing problem for restaurants, airlines and hotels, with fake service dog vests just a click away online.

It's why David Riggs, a disabled Montanan whose nonprofit connects disabled veterans with service dogs, is helping draft legislation to address the issue.

"We want to make it illegal to put a service dog vest on a pet," Riggs explains.

As defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service dog is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.

It takes a lot more than a vest for a pet to be entitled to federal protections afforded by the ADA, like access to restaurants, hotels and other places where pets normally aren't allowed.

Complicating the issue, according to Riggs, are emotional support animals.

An ESA can be any type of pet -- a companion animal that a medical professional has determined provides benefit to an individual with a disability. What's key is that it does not have to be specially trained or perform any specific task, which means their owners shouldn't expect to bring them where pets normally aren't allowed.

"Emotional support animals and therapy animals both have a place in this world," Riggs says. "I think they provide a very genuine service. However, they're not service dogs."

Riggs thinks most ESA owners just aren't aware of the distinction. His hope is that the legislation he's helping draft will change that, and for those who try to deliberately pass off their pets as service dogs, Riggs says his legislation would carry with it a penalty.

Riggs says he and his partners are currently seeking a sponsor to carry the bill when Montana's next legislative session convenes in 2019.

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