Alabama Seeks to Penalize People Who Pretend They Have a Service Dog

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The state of Alabama is pushing back against pet owners who try to falsely claim that their pet is a service animal by passing a new law that makes it a Class C misdemeanor, resulting in a $100 fine and 100 hours of community service.

Unlike emotional support animals, service animals are specifically trained animals used by people with disabilities to help them with different tasks including reminding their owners when to take medication, or guide them through rooms.

However, because there's no federal requirement for people to register their animal as a service animal, anyone can fake having a service dog, Frances McGowin, the executive director of Service Dogs Alabama said.

"They don’t know if a dog walking into your business with a vest on is truly a service dog that is saving that person’s life, or if this is someone’s pet and they bought a vest online," McGowin told WTVY.

Under the new law, people caught claiming their dog is a service animal when they're just a pet can be fined $100 and required to work 100 hours of community service. Another 25 states have passed similar legislation on the fraudulent representation of a service animal. The law is one of several moves recently made by state and government organizations to crack down on the definitions of service animals and try to push back against those who might try and take advantage.

But because there's no requirement under federal law for people to register their service animal, it may be difficult for the state to prosecute any cases.

“So that’s why there needs to be some kind of a regulatory system in place for people that need service dogs so they have legitimate ID cards that are recognized by the federal government,” she said.

The law goes into effect on Sept. 1.

Photo: Getty Images

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