With the increased visibility of service animals has come an attendant problem: People passing their pets off — generally dogs — as trained service animals so they can tag along in stores, restaurants, and other establishments.
And now legislators in Arizona are doing something to curb such abuses.
According to Tucson.com, Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation this week "that makes it illegal to 'fraudulently misrepresent' any animal as a service animal to someone who operates a public place or business."
Scofflaws, the article adds, will face fines of $250 for each violation.
The new law was spearheaded by Sen. John Kavanagh, who wants to prohibit pets from places they don't belong. At a committee hearing earlier in the month, he reportedly told his fellow lawmakers that "I don't want some dog being wheeled around a supermarket in the same cart I'll put my food in later."
While Kavangh's comments ring somewhat tone deaf (and petty), there's no doubt that the issue is real: Service animals require extensive training, which often costs the pet owner thousands of dollars. And when pet owners misrepresent their pups and they misbehave in public, it gives real service animals a bad name.
Arizona, it should be noted, joins several other states in cracking down on fake service animals: USA TODAY, for example, reports that 19 other states have addressed the problem with legislative remedies in the last couple years.
On social media, opinions varied widely, but most seemed to agree the initiative was overdue — and necessary.
"Arizona just made it a crime to misrepresent service dogs! Very happy about this. So sick of seeing dogs in stores and other places misbehaving making it harder for people with disabilities to have that access with their service animals," wrote one woman.
"Granted, you still can’t ask someone what their disability is or how much training the dog has. But you are allowed to ask someone if it’s a service animal and what task it does for you. A barking french bull dog is NOT a “emotional support animal," she added.
"My sis in law has spent over $10,000 in training for her service animal and it annoys the f*ck out of me when people pass off their normal pet as a ESD that has had zero training as approved by nobody."
Writing in response, a second woman shared a similar anecdote that alluded to what happens when people try to pass pets off as service animals.
"I see people with out of control service dogs all the time. I recently tripped over a dog OFF a leash running around the inside of a restaurant in NYC cause some crazy lady just let the dog run wild but kept calling it her 'service animal.'"
Do you think animal owners misrepresenting their pets should be punished? Share your thoughts in the comments below!