Wednesday: February 21, 2024
Blind man walks with his service dog in Texas.
Criminal, State(s)

New Texas law tightens leash on fake service animals

New Texas law tightens leash on fake service animals

  • Law starts September 1, 2023 in Texas

  • Convicted of disability fraud, the person could face up to $1,000 fine

  • Sentence could also include up to 30 hours of community service

  • Emotional Support Animals (ESA) are not considered Service Dogs with public access rights according to ADA

From KRIS 6 News:

CORPUS CHRISTI — The state of Texas has tightened its leash on people trying to pass their pets off as service animals.

During the 88th legislative session, Texas lawmakers passed House Bill 4164.

The law, which will take effect September 1, makes it a misdemeanor for someone to represent their animal as an assistance or service animal when it is not trained or equipped to help a person with a disability.

“I’ve been blind since birth,” Marshall Burns said. “I’ve used a cane since I was three. I use Duncan for about 70 percent of my travel,” Burns said.

Duncan isn’t just Burn’s travel companion, he’s his eyes, his guide dog.

Marshall started training with Duncan in 2015.

Before meeting Marshall, Duncan had been preparing to be a guide dog from the moment he was weaned off his mother.

 

“Puppy-hood training entails going around to different places and getting used to things,” Burns said. “Getting used to children pulling your tail at daycare centers, getting used to going to the zoo and seeing other animals and not getting distracted by them. Going on buses so they get used to the noise so they’re not startled by the air breaks.”

And guide dogs aren’t cheap.

“A guide dog that is fully trained that is ready to go is worth $40 to $45,000,” Burns said. “The unemployment rate for blind and visually impaired people is 70 percent,” Burns said. “A lot of people who are blind or visually impaired don’t have the kind of funding it takes in their bank account or the ability to come up with that funding.”

He said the schools and organizations that provide service dogs cover most of the cost thanks to donations.

They are working dogs with a job to do.

“Duncan knows he is working when he is in harness and when he is told a command,” Burns said. “And when I take him off of harness, he has a command to go free.”

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

Emotional support animals provide companionship and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias. ESAs do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities, and they are not limited to dogs.

“If anybody ever says, ‘Well, I have papers,’ saying that ‘I have a service dog’, it’s probably not a service dog because there’s not a license to have a service dog,” Burns said.

A blurred line that many people have tried to take advantage of over the years in order for their pets to gain entry to places they wouldn’t normally be allowed, like restaurants, certain housing and public transportation.

Violators of Texas’ new law, which will take effect September 1, could face up to a $1,000 fine and 30 hours of community service.

“I’m interested to see how they are going to enforce the law,” Burns said. “However, it is a step in the right direction.”

Burns said it’s obvious when people fake having a service dog.

“It’s barking, growling and everything else,” Burns said.

He said they can be a distraction to actual guide dogs and their handlers.

“If they’re aggressive, it could also put other people in danger,” Burns said.

“If they don’t behave and if they cause a problem, then it gives people who actually use and need to utilize service animals a bad rap,” Burns said.

Burns hopes the new law deters people from trying to pass their pets off as service animals.

“I hope that laws like this are adopted across the United States so that way people that are traveling with guide dogs and actual service animals so that we can actually get from point A to point B safely,” Burns said.

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