Montana May Implement Crackdown On Fake Service Animals

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Now it’s Montana’s turn.

According to a recent account, the Treasure State may soon join a growing list of states that have cracked down on the use of fake service animals.

With an 85-15 vote earlier this week, Montana’s House of Representatives endorsed a bill establishing punishments for people who pass their pets off as service animals. As it now stands, HB 439 would make  the misrepresentation of service animals a misdemeanor offense. Anyone convicted would face:

  • A $50 fine for a first offense
  • A fine ranging from $75 to $200 for a second offense
  • A fine ranging from $100 to $1,000 for a third/subsequent offense

HB 439 also stipulates that anyone convicted of the offense may be required to perform community service for an organization that advocates on the behalf of persons with disabilities.

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In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

Within this context, it is important to note that these punishments could only be imposed if:

  • the offender had previously received a written warning regarding the misrepresentation of his or her pet as a service animal; and
  • continued to represent the pet as a service animal
  • in order to gain any rights or privileges afforded to a service animal.

Misrepresentation of a service animal

HB 439 defines misrepresentation of a service animal as activity in which someone:

  • equips the animal with a leash, collar, cape, harness, backpack, or sign identifying it as a service animal; or
  • says or provides written material claiming that the animal is a service animal;
  • in order to access certain places with the animal; and
  • it is determined that the animal is not properly trained to perform a service animal’s functions.

Legally, a determination regarding lack of sufficient training necessary for a service animal could be based on: whether or not the dog is housebroken; whether it is under the handler’s control; and the handler’s ability or inability to bring the dog under control.

Additional provisions

If the bill becomes law, establishments that don’t provide access to pets would have to post signs indicating that:

  1. They do allow service animals.
  2.  They are legally allowed to ask the owner if the animal is a service animal required because of a disability and what work or task the animal is trained to perform.

Furthermore, establishments may not be able to make complaints against suspected offenders unless they have posted a public notice indicating that they reserve the right to do so regarding the misrepresentation of service animals.

Finally, animals that are not under their handler’s control or are not housebroken may be asked to leave in accordance with the bill, which is similar to language in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Pros and cons

People in favor of and opposed to the measure voiced their opinions at a House Judiciary Committee Meeting on March 11.

William Austin, a disabled veteran who has a service dog, spoke first. Because people misrepresent their pets as service animals in order to take them into certain establishments, people who have legitimate need of service dogs are challenged, he said. In large part this is because the “fake” service animals are disruptive and don’t behave well, he added.

But Austin said an even greater concern is the safety of real service dogs and their handlers. Specifically, he shared a story about a “fake” service dog that attacked a real service dog belonging to a friend.

“There needs to be something done to stop folks who deliberately falsify their animals as service animals,” Austin concluded.

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