As the national debate about the classification and use of service animals continues, Connecticut lawmakers are confronting the issue head-on.
According to recent media accounts, state legislators have proposed a bill that would make it illegal to claim any animal, including a pet, is a service animal unless it is trained as such.
In its current iteration, Section 1(a) of Raised Bill No. 7106, or An Act Concerning Service Animals, specifically states: “No individual may knowingly represent, whether expressly or impliedly, that a dog is a service animal or being trained as a service animal, for the purpose of obtaining any rights or privileges afforded to an individual with a disability, unless such dog is a service animal or is being trained to be a service animal.”
The bill also calls for the imposition of a maximum fine of $150 for each violation.
If the bill becomes law, it will take effect October 1, 2019.
So far, the bill has garnered plenty of support in the court of public opinion. At a public hearing held February 15, several people, including a representative of the American Kennel Club (AKC) spoke in favor of the measure.
“Service dogs are trained to behave submissively when they encounter another service dog,” Stacey Ober, a legislative analyst for the AKC told the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. “They are trained not to react to noises and disturbances that upset other dogs. Bringing untrained dogs into situations for which they are ill-equipped, however puts everyone at risk.”
Because “untrained animals fraudulently presented as service dogs in public places” have created so much chaos, people with legitimate service dogs are now wrongly denied access to places where they have every right to be, Ober added.
Elizabeth Rival of Kensington, who is blind and counts on her guide dog to keep her safe while maintaining her independence, also supports the bill.
“A pet with, quote fake quote service animals with credentials, exhibiting unacceptable behavior, should be dealt with , by businesses or restaurants or other public locations on a case by case basis,” Rival said. “This problem should not be put on persons with disabilities who rely on their highly trained, well-behaved, service animals, who are only seeking to be independent people.”
The support is not universal, however.
Kathleen Flaherty of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, Inc., said the measure is unnecessary “because it purports to solve a problem that does not exist,” and dangerous “in that it will become a vehicle for discrimination based on disability.”
Flaherty also argued that people who “fraudulently obtain paperwork on the internet (paperwork that is not required under either the ADA or Fair Housing Act) to call their animals ‘service dogs’ so they can take them into restaurants and on airplanes and threaten to sue if their animals are denied access, will not be deterred by this bill.”
Only time will tell…
Only time will tell whether this bill will become law and how effective the new law would be. Personally I agree with Flaherty’s assertion that a $150 fine doesn’t seem like an effective deterrent for those bent on abusing the system by passing pets off as service animals.
But I disagree with her assertion that the bill seeks to address a “problem that doesn’t exist.” There’s a problem, alright. The only question is what to do about it.