Exploitation In The Service Dog Industry And The People Who Pay The Price

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This is a story about broken promises, broken dreams and a broken system. This is also a story about a little girl with a broken heart.

As the Associated Press reports, Sobie Cummings was just nine when a psychiatrist suggested that a service dog might help her cope with intense emotional anguish and loneliness.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

Eager to help their little girl, Sobie’s parents agreed. And in the summer of 2017, they thought they finally found the perfect person to provide the perfect dog. That person was Mark Mathis, the then-owner of the Apex, N.C.-based kennel, Ry-Con Service Dogs. He owned a kennel fairly close to home, he is the parent of an autistic child, and he had stellar credentials — or so the Cummings thought.

They believed the claims in the online brochure. At the time, they had no reason not to believe that Mathis was “certified as a NC state approved service dog trainer with a specialty in autism service dogs for children” in 2013, as the brochure stated. And at the time, they had no reason not to believe Mathis when he quickly told them he had “the perfect dog” for their autistic daughter, even though he hadn’t met Sobie.

At the time, they had no way to know that based on her behavior, the dog — a Briard named Okami — never should have been sold to anyone, much less to  a family with a special needs child and two older dogs at home.

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), service dogs must be “handler-focused, desensitized to distractions, and highly trained to do specific tasks. They should not be distracted by the public, as they should focus solely on their owner when working.”

The AKC also notes that safe and successful service dogs must have a specific temperament and abilities. They must be: calm but friendly; alert but not reactive; willing to be touched by anyone, including strangers; be willing to please; have the tendency to follow you around; be socialized to numerous situations and environments*; and have the ability to learn quickly and retain information. (*Emphasis added.)

On a webpage devoted to the breed, the AKC notes that Briards have some of these traits. Specifically, they are “confident, smart and faithful.” Because they are a herding breed, Briards may also have “a protective eye toward family (especially kids, whom they regard as their flock), and wariness with outsiders.”

Although their intelligence and athletic ability allows them to “excel at almost any canine role or sport,” the AKC notes that their independence may make them difficult to train. The AKC also says that socialization “should begin early and continue throughout the Briard’s life.”

But as the Associated Press reports, Okami “pulled at her leash and refused to lie down” while on  “training trips to local stores.” As the AP also reports, Okami “growled and lunged at people and defecated in a hallway” at a mall.

A dream becomes a nightmare

Still, Okami “graduated” in May 2018, and the Cummings bought her for more than $14,000. But when they finally brought her home on Mother’s Day weekend, nearly a year after they first contacted Mathis, their dream became a nightmare.

With no apparent provocation, the Cummings claim, Okami immediately attacked one of the family’s older dogs. And to make matters even worse, they say, Sobie saw the whole thing.

With no other choice, the Cummings sent Okami back to Mathis. And that’s when they made another horrible discovery. Not only were the claims about Mathis’ state certification in North Carolina untrue, but there is no such thing as a  state certification for service dog trainers anywhere in the U.S.

To add insult to injury, Mathis allegedly refused to refund the Cummings’ money, prompting a lawsuit. And then last November, Mathis reportedly notified clients by email that he was closing the kennel because  it was “no longer sustainable.” The next day, the AP reports,  he filed for bankruptcy protection.

North Carolina authorities launched an investigation based on a slew of ensuing complaints. And the allegations are damning. According to state Attorney General Josh Stein, Mathis “falsified medical records and breeder information.” Stein also alleges that Mathis “may have ‘siphoned’ as much as $240,000 of the nonprofit’s money for personal expenses.”

Mathis, a biotech engineer who co-founded Ry-Con Service Dogs with his wife after a service dog helped their autistic son, has emphatically denied the allegations. He also contends that his clients have broken their contracts, fallen behind on payments and misrepresented “conditions in their homes.”

Only time will tell what the future holds for Mathis. In the meantime, all the Cummings can do is try to help their daughter recover from the PTSD she developed after witnessing Okami’s violent attack on their pet.

“Her life is not what it was,” her mother told the AP. “The light’s not back in her eyes yet.”

Apparently, Okami may also be facing an uncertain fate.  According to the AP, Mathis sold her to another family — with a similar outcome. That family has also filed a complaint.

Time to set some boundaries

Although there is a growing demand for service dogs to help people with autism and PTSD, experts say there is little to no meaningful regulation or oversight for the training of such service dogs.  As it now stands, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t even mandate that service dogs are professionally trained.

Until effective rules are implemented, families like the Cummings will be susceptible to incompetence… or worse.

“It is a lawless area. The Wild West,” David Favre, a law professor at Michigan State University and editor of its Animal Legal and Historical Center website, told the AP.

That needs to change.

Alexandra Bogdanovic is a paralegal and the owner/founder of In Brief Legal Writing Services. She is also an award-winning author and journalist whose interests include animal welfare and animal law. All opinions expressed in this forum are her own. Any information pertaining to legal matters is intended solely for general audiences and should not be regarded as legal advice.

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.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
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.

Cat Fanatic Proves You Can Fight City Hall

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Here’s a question for you. Do you think the government (town, city, county or state) should be allowed to regulate how many pets you have?

Personally I have mixed feelings on the topic. On one hand I think it’s a great way to prevent hoarding — as long as the laws are actually enforced before things get out of hand. I also think it’s a good way to encourage responsible pet ownership — even if it can’t guarantee that people will treat their pets properly.

And then there’s the rebellious part of me. This is the part that says, “Wait just a minute. How dare you tell me how many pets I can have?”

Fighting city hall — and winning

Apparently a Utah man feels the same way. As recently reported in The Salt Lake Tribune, a West Valley City resident has two black cats and wanted to get another one. But when he went to the local animal shelter to get one, he learned that he couldn’t because of a city regulation limiting the number of cats and dogs residents could have to two per household.

Furr-911 rescues Hurricane Harvey kittens.
Hurricane Harvey kittens make an appearance at Puttin’ on the Dog festival, courtesy of FURR-911. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

When he learned the only way to change that was to convince the city to change the rules, he took the challenge seriously. And after six months of lobbying, his persistence finally paid off.

Earlier this month, the City Council unanimously passed an amended ordinance that “would allow for pet owners to apply for a permit to have up to four cats or dogs.” However, the restriction pertaining to the total number of pets is unchanged, meaning that residents still can’t have four cats and four dogs. An exception to the limit for kittens and puppies up to 4-months old is also unchanged.

A matter of personal preference

As it stands, I have had cats since I was 10. But the only time I had more than one was when my ex and I were married. And I’ll be honest. Having two cats in a small apartment was an adventure, especially since my cat was the alpha.

After I got divorced, Heals came home with me. She also moved to Virginia with me, and live there for three years before she died of cancer in 2007. I was still living in Virginia when I got Eli in 2008 and I’ve had him ever since. Sometimes I think about getting another one — but it wouldn’t be fair to him — or to me, for that matter.

Eli the cat.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot, Eli the cat.

For one thing, Eli is a “pit bull in a cat costume.” He is loyal, affectionate, and super-smart. But because he was abused before I adopted him, he is very easily triggered and acts accordingly. You’d think that he would mellow out as he gets older, especially since he’s been in a stable, loving environment for so long. As it turns out, that’s wishful thinking. Finding ways to address his redirected aggression is an ongoing process.

Secondly, having a cat is expensive. Or should I say, having this cat is expensive. There’s food, and cat litter, and vet bills. Oh, the vet bills. And because Eli is such a handful, I have to take him to the vet to have his claws clipped every three months. At $23 and change for each trimming, even that adds up.

Not to mention that I’m busy and I travel. So the bottom line for me is that — as much as I love cats — I don’t think I’ll ever have more than one at a time again.

How about you? Do you have pets? How many? How many is “too many?” I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to comment.

Addressing The Controversial Decision Not To Have Pets Vaccinated

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It’s something every pet parent has experienced at the veterinarian’s office. A dog in the lobby cowers at the end of its leash — shivering with its tail tucked between its legs — and stubbornly refuses to walk into the exam room. A cat in a carrier yowls to make its feelings known, and anyone brave enough to take a closer look is most likely confronted by the sight of a decidedly unhappy feline, complete with bristled fur, a lashing tail and bared teeth.

No, it’s not a secret that most of our pets hate going to the vet, especially if they need shots. Luckily for some, their human caretakers don’t seem to think vaccinations are necessary. But is that really a good thing? Well, it depends on who you ask.

To vaccinate or not: that is the question

Personally, I must confess that I wasn’t aware there was a controversy about pet vaccinations until I read about it on time.com. I mean, it never occurred to me not to have Eli’s shots done. And now that I am thinking about it, I have mixed feelings.

In Brief Legal Writing Services Mascot, Eli.
Eli The Cat. Photo By Alexandra Bogdanovic

On one hand, my life would be so much easier if I didn’t have to take him to the vet for shots. He is an indoor cat, so I could easily justify the decision not to. On the other hand, the thought of him getting some horrible disease — like rabies — is enough to make me glad I’m following the rules.

Even though Eli is an indoor cat,  his penchant for eating the mice he catches puts him at risk for picking up all sorts of nasty bugs — and passing them on to me. His penchant for biting when he’s feeling threatened, scared or mad, is also plenty of incentive to make sure his shots are up to date.

My dog doesn’t need any shots, thank you

But I digress. The point, according to the time.com article is that so-called “anti-vaxxers” are refusing to have their dogs vaccinated based on  misguided fears. Specifically, their opposition seems largely based on the belief that  vaccines are “unnecessary, dangerous and that they can cause a form of (canine) autism, along with other diseases.”

While it says evidence about opposition to pet vaccinations in the United States seems mostly anecdotal and highly localized, TIME reports that “anti-vax activists” in some states are pushing for the loosening of mandatory pet vaccination laws. TIME also reports that some states, including Connecticut, have entertained measures that would do so. So far, those measures have not garnered the support needed to become law.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, there is more concrete information about growing reluctance to have pets vaccinated. As cited by TIME, the PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report for 2018 indicates that:

  • One quarter of owners report that their dog wasn’t vaccinated when it was young.
  • The total number of young dogs that weren’t vaccinated is approximately 2.2. million.
  • The number of owners who say they didn’t have their young dogs vaccinated “has levelled [sic] off after a significant increase last year.”
  • Twenty-three percent of dogs “have not received regular boosters.”

Furthermore, 20 percent of owners said initial vaccinations are unnecessary; 19 percent cited cost; and 11 percent said they “haven’t thought about it.”  Dog owners gave similar reasons for not ensuring that their pets get annual shots. Fourteen percent stated that their vet “hasn’t recommended annual vaccinations,” and 13 percent said they disagree with the practice.

My cats don’t need any shots, either

Low vaccination rates in the U.K. are not unique to dogs, however. According to the same report:

  • Thirty-five percent of owners said cats never had an initial course of vaccines when they were young.
  • Forty-one percent of cats haven’t gotten annual shots.

The top reasons owners gave for failing to ensure that their cats were vaccinated as youngsters were cost, that they find it unnecessary, and that the cat has no contact with other animals. Owners also gave those reasons for failing to have their cats get annual shots. Sixteen percent of owners also said their cats didn’t get annual shots because the cats are too stressed out by vet visits.

“Clearly, more education is needed to impress the importance of regular vaccinations to prevent
potentially fatal diseases in cats. Equally, ways of reducing cat stress in veterinary clinics could also be a way of encouraging more cat owners to take their pet in for vaccinations,” the report states.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that our pets count on us to keep them safe and keep them healthy. As far as I’m concerned, making sure they get their shots is a crucial part of that. But that’s just my opinion. What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Fake Service Animal Use Prompts Community Concerns

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Apparently, some people in a Pennsylvania community are passing their pets off as service dogs — and the business owners there aren’t happy about it.

According to a recent media account, the concerns about alleged activity prompted a community meeting at the Kennett Public Library in Kennett Square. The chief concern addressed there was that laws designed to protect people who really need service dogs also make it difficult to take any action against people who clearly don’t.

Use of service animals under the ADA

For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as, “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”

guide dog demo
Fidelco Guide Dog Demonstration. Puttin’ On The Dog, 2018. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

In this context, a dog that is taught to detect the onset of a medical emergency such as an epileptic seizure, or hyper/hypoglycemia in a diabetic, and take a specific action to help the person based on that is legally classified as a service animal. A dog that facilitates routine tasks or its handler’s mobility can also be classified as a service animal.

The ADA differentiates service dogs/service animals from emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals, which “provide comfort just by being with a person,” and have not been trained to perform specific tasks.

However, the ADA also stipulates that:

  1. There are no breed restrictions when it comes to service animals.
  2. Exclusion of a service animal based solely on “assumptions or stereotypes about the animal’s breed or how the animal might behave” is not permitted. The only exception to this is if  “a particular service animal behaves in a way that poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, has a history of such behavior, or is not under the control of the handler.”
  3. Communities that ban certain breeds “must make an exception for a service animal of a prohibited breed, unless the dog poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.”
  4. There are no requirements pertaining to the use of vests, ID tags, or specific harnesses to identify service animals.
  5. Service animals must be under the control of the handler at all times.

Exclusion of service animals under the ADA

In accordance with the ADA, a handler may be asked to remove the service animal from the premises if it is “out of control” and the handler fails to “take effective action to control it.”

Businesses are also allowed to prevent service animals from entering the premises of admitting them would “fundamentally alter the nature of the service” provided there.

In this context, it is also important to note that proprietors and staff can only ask for limited information in situations where it is not clear whether the dog is really a service animal. Specifically, they can ask: a) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and; b) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

They cannot ask for any documentation for the dog, demand that the dog demonstrate its task, or ask about the nature of the person’s disability.

In many cases, the Department of Justice says, it would be pointless to ask for documentation even if businesses and proprietors were allowed to do so.

“There are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online,” the agency explains. “These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.”

What about housing?

The ADA applies to any housing program overseen by a state or local government, such as a public housing authority, and by places of public accommodation, including public and private universities.

Then there’s the Fair Housing Act, which covers nearly every type of housing, regardless of whether it is public or privately owned; including housing covered by the ADA. Under the Fair Housing Act, housing providers must permit, “as a reasonable accommodation,” the use of animals that “work, provide assistance, or perform tasks that benefit persons with a disabilities, or provide emotional support to alleviate a symptom or effect of a disability.”

You can learn more here.

The bottom line

As stories about  “fake” service dogs and emotional support animals continue to make headlines, lawmakers across the country are taking notice. To date, 21 states have taken steps to deter people from wrongfully presenting their pets as service and support animals.

Recently, I wrote about Connecticut’s efforts to thwart the activity. You can find that post here.


Painkillers For Pets + People = Dangerous Mix

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A few years back, something really strange happened to Eli. Maybe something stung him. Or maybe he hurt his back somehow. Since I didn’t see what happened to cause him so much pain, I guess I’ll never know. But it wasn’t good.

So I took him to the veterinarian — and she couldn’t figure out what happened, either. All she could say for sure was that his back was extremely tender and he was in a lot of discomfort. So she gave him something for the pain and sent him home.

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

I don’t know what it was. But it drove him crazy. Literally. He hid under the bed for days, only coming out to use his litter box. Of course I stopped giving him the medicine as soon as I figured out it was causing the odd behavior. Even so, it took poor old Eli a few day to recover.

When I told the vet what happened, she confirmed that cats and dogs sometimes have adverse reaction to strong painkillers.

So imagine my shock — and horror — when I came across a recent article about the potential misuse of these drugs by people.

Establishing a link between the prescription of pet painkillers and the American opioid crisis

The article, which appeared on cbsnews.com back in January details the findings of a new study published in JAMA NETWORK OPEN earlier this year.

Based on research conducted during an 11-year period, the study addresses the following question: “What kind of opioids and how many are prescribed by veterinarians?”

To answer it, researchers documented the number of opioid tablets and/or patches dispensed or prescribed by veterinarians at a “multispecialty academic veterinary teaching hospital” in Philadelphia  between January 1, 2007 and December 31, 2017 (all dates inclusive).  They found that 134 veterinarians practicing there during the time in question prescribed:

  • 1 05,1 836 Tramadol tablets
  • 97 547 Hydrocodone tablets
  • 38 939 Codeine tablets
  • 3153 Fentanyl patches

The research also determined that the veterinarians prescribed most of these medications  for dogs (73 percent); followed by cats (22.5 percent); and other species including rabbits, birds, and reptiles (4.5%)

Finally, the research revealed that while the number of animal hospital visits increased by 12.8 percent over the 11-year period, the number of opioid-based medications increased by 41.2 percent.

With a lack of available data for the entire 11-year period, researchers could not make an accurate comparison between the number of new prescriptions and refills. However, a separate assessment of 2017 prescriptions revealed that approximately 10 percent were refills.

Nap time! Hurricane Harvey kittens take a break at the 30th annual Puttin’ on the Dog festival. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

So what?

In their assessment of these findings, the researchers acknowledge that veterinarians have historically received less education about opioid misuse than medical doctors and dentists. The researchers also acknowledge that increased awareness among physicians and dentists has prompted people who misuse opioids to get opioid-based painkillers elsewhere.

Specifically, the assessment cites the FDA Commissioner’s concerns that, “the recent increased scrutiny of medical and dental opioid prescribing may have redirected some individuals to obtain opioids from veterinarians.”

As a result, the researchers conclude that veterinarians should be subjected to the same rules and regulations as their peers in medicine and dentistry. They also say that veterinarians should receive similar educational outreach.

As things now stand

Rules and regulations

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association there are regulations that mandate reporting when veterinarians dispense controlled substances — including opioids — to patients on the books in 15 states and the District Columbia. These are:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Vermont
  • Washington state
  • West Virginia

However, it is important to note that 34 states exempt veterinarians from Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.

Educational outreach

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also provided a comprehensive list of tips for veterinarians that stock and prescribe opioid-based medications for animals.

Among other things, it includes advice about how to spot clients and staff that may be “diverting” and misusing these medications.

Some warning signs that a client is potentially abusing opioids may include:

  • Suspect injuries in a new patient
  • Asking for specific medications by name
  • Asking for refills for lost or stolen medications
  • Pet owner is insistent in their request

Some warning signs that veterinary staff may be abusing opioids include:

  • Mood swings, anxiety, or depression
  • Mental confusion and an inability to concentrate
  • Making frequent mistakes at work
  • Not showing up for work

The bottom line

“Combating opioid addiction and addressing misuse of pain medication continues to be one of FDA’s highest priorities,” the agency says. “Veterinarians as medical professionals have an opportunity to partner with FDA and others to take on this deadly epidemic, and the agency encourages them to continue to work with their clients and both local and national organizations to join in the fight.”

CT Regulation Of Gig Economy Pet Businesses Stirs Debate

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GIG ECONOMY(noun): A way of working that is based on people having temporary jobs or doing separate pieces of work, each paid separately, rather than working for an employer…

Of course, this definition is from the dictionary. And as such, it is accurate. But it is also rather generic and somewhat outdated. Since I’m an active participant in the 21st century version, I prefer to think of the gig economy as: a system in which Internet platforms and/or apps are created to: a) offer certain services, and b) facilitate hiring of independent contractors to provide them.

If that sounds too convoluted, here are some examples. First, there are platforms that specifically cater to “creatives” and other skilled professionals, such as Upwork and Freelancer. And then there’s:

  • Uber
  • Lyft
  • Instacart
  • DoorDash
  • TaskRabbit

The list goes on, and on….

Don’t forget Rover and Wag

There are even apps that cater to those of us who have — and those of us who enjoy working with — companion animals. Take Rover, for example. This website/app lets people sign up as pet sitters. If they are approved (following an application process that includes a basic background check),  they are paired with pet owners in need of boarding, house sitting, dog walking, “doggy daycare,” and home visits.

Great Dane wins Best Lap Dog contest at Puttin' on the Dog.
Best Lap Dog winner. Puttin’ on the Dog. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

Specifically, pet owners can use Rover to find sitters in their area and arrange for the services they need.

Another website/app called Wag also caters to people interested in becoming dog walkers and dog sitters/boarders. Like its counterpart, Wag claims that it puts applicants through comprehensive screening process before they are approved. Once they are, they are paired with pet owners in need of specific services.

In Connecticut, the law struggles to keep up

As the gig economy keeps on booming, legislators across the country are struggling to keep up. In Connecticut, for example, lawmakers have come up with two approaches for addressing regulatory concerns associated with Internet/app-based pet care services.

Introduced by state Senator Catherine Osten, proposed S.B. No. 250 is also known as “An Act Concerning the Regulation of Commercial Kennels.”  If approved, it would change the language in existing laws so a commercial kennel would be legally classified as “a place maintained for boarding or grooming five or more cats or dogs.”  That way, anyone who cares for four or fewer animals belonging to other people  in their own homes would not be defined and regulated as commercial kennels.

Osten said she proposed the legislation as a way to protect thousands of people in Connecticut that work as gig economy pet sitters from being regulated in the same way as traditional commercial kennels.

Then there’s proposed H.B. No. 5399 or “Ann Act Concerning the Definition of Kennel for the Purposes of Commercial Kennel Regulation,” which was introduced by state Rep. Kim Rose. It also calls for changes to existing language so that a kennel is defined as “a facility rather than to a pack or collection of dogs.” Doing so would “clarify the statutory provisions for  commercial kennel registration and regulation by the Department of Agriculture.”

“We’re not trying to tell these internet businesses ‘you can’t do business in Connecticut,’” Rose told the Hartford Courant. “All we’re asking them to do is the right thing: become licensed and inspected so we can make sure you’re taking good, healthy care of our pets.”

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Connecticut Considers Crackdown On Fake Service Animals

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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.

Fidelco Picture
Fidelco Guide Dog demonstration. Puttin’ On The Dog, 2018

Public comments

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.

In CT, repeat offenders in animal cruelty cases now face tougher punishment

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

A Connecticut law now on the books provides for tougher penalties in some animal cruelty cases. Specifically, the law that took effect Oct. 1 ups the maximum punishment for repeat offenders.

Until recently, anyone convicted of malicious and intentional animal cruelty more than once was guilty of Class D felony. That meant the offender could be sentenced to no more than five years in prison. Now a “subsequent offense” is designated as a Class C felony, with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

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

Putting it in “plain English” that means anyone found guilty of “maliciously or intentionally maiming, mutilating, torturing, wounding, or killing an animal” in separate cases no longer gets a slap on the wrist. However, someone convicted for the first time is still guilty of a Class D felony.

Penalties for animal neglect remain the same. If convicted, anyone who deprives an animal or animals of adequate “care, food and water” faces up to one year in prison, a $1,000 fine or both. Anyone found guilty of such activity more than once faces up to five years in prison.

There are exceptions to every rule. In Connecticut, people in certain professions, or who engage in certain activities, cannot be prosecuted under the state’s “malicious and intentional animal cruelty” law — as long as they are following “acceptable practices.” For example, veterinarians, people working in abattoirs, and farmers or ranchers are exempt. Researchers and hunters acting within legal parameters are also exempt.

Whether the exemptions are “fair” or “right” is a matter of opinion and can be debated at another time. Whether the laws pertaining to neglect should be changed is also a matter of opinion and a subject for future debate. The same can be said about whether the new law goes far enough.

All anyone can say for certain is that animal abuse and neglect is an American epidemic that must be addressed. Recently compiled statistics show that:

  • The media reports on roughly 1,900 animal abuse cases each year.
  • Most animal abuse cases involve dogs, and of the cases involving dogs, the majority involve pit bulls.
  • Neglect and abandonment are the most common forms of abuse.
  • Hoarding makes up 13 percent of animal cruelty cases.
  • Fighting makes up 9 percent of animal cruelty cases.

As someone who has personally witnessed the effects of animal cruelty as a pet owner (Eli was definitely abused before I adopted him) and as someone who volunteers at a local shelter, I have very strong feelings about the topic. As far as I am concerned there’s simply no punishment harsh enough for anyone who hurts an animal. None.

It’s the law: CT animal advocacy measure among those now in effect

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

Some time ago, I blogged about Connecticut legislation drafted to permit lawyers and would-be lawyers to “represent” animals in certain cases.

Since my first post, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed the bill into law. I am now happy to report that he Act Concerning Support For Cats and Dogs that are Treated Cruelly officially took effect Oct. 1.

To refresh your memory, the law allows attorneys specializing in animal cruelty and neglect cases — and law school students with an interest in the subject — to “advocate for the interests of justice in certain proceedings involving animals.” There are three circumstances in which this can happen:

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
  • In animal cruelty or animal fighting cases
  • In “court proceedings stemming from an animal control officer’s seizure of a cruelly treated or neglected animal”
  • In “criminal cases involving the welfare or custody of cats or dogs.”

Qualified advocates (selected from lists kept by the Department of Agriculture) can now attend hearings, act as observers and provide relevant information to the judge or “fact finder.” In certain circumstances, they can also issue recommendations.

In accordance with the new law, any party involved in the case can request a special advocate’s services. The court can also appoint a special advocate.

The law is also summarized here.

New rules pertaining to human trafficking, bed bugs, child support, protection for victims of domestic violence, abuse in nursing homes, and medicinal use of marijuana also took effect Oct. 1.

Now that makes for a lot of blog fodder. So stay tuned…