State wants to crack down on fake service animals

State wants to crack down on fake service animals

The state House of Representatives unanimously approved a measure today that could mean a $500 fine for anyone who misrepresents their pet as a service animal.

Rep. Mike Steele, R-Chelan, who authored the bill, says the idea came from a business owner in his area, the 12th district. While drafting the measure the lawmaker says he consulted with members of the disabled community and businesses which believe the state needs to crack down on these types of abuses.

Steele’s bill would make it a civil infraction, with a $500 fine, if people try to pass their pets off as service animals.

“When developing this legislation, I worked closely with the Human Rights Commission and the governor’s office to create a bill that benefits the disabled community,” said Steele. “We had several disabled people come to Olympia to testify on behalf of this measure. They came because they feel those who falsely imply their pet is a service animal erode trust and cause confusion. This means less protection for the unique status of real service animals.”

Service animals are trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. Typically these trained animals are used by people with vision or hearing impairments. Today, many service animals are also utilized by people with other impairments of mobility including people prone to seizures, or with conditions like autism or mental illness.

Steele says untrained animals can cause havoc in places of businesses like restaurants, stores and hotels. The lawmaker says service animal fraud is a growing problem in Washington state.

“Service animals help people accomplish tasks that otherwise would be difficult or simply impossible. They are not simply pets, but animals doing a job. Often times, animals that are not trained misbehave. They cause not only security issues, but health issues,” continued Steele. “It’s essential we do not compromise the ability of people who really need the help of a service animal to live their lives freely.”

House Bill 2822 now moves to the Senate Law and Justice Committee for further review.