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Action News Uncovers Problem of Fake Service Dogs

Reported by: Mark Spain
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Updated: 2/06 11:45 pm
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Randy Thurston is a survivor. He’s a military veteran. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Thurston’s service dog Louie is his constant companion.

“People look at you differently,” said Thurston.

Thurston served in the Army and National Guard. But he said an injury overseas changed his life forever.

“I have PTSD.  I also have neck and back issues due from explosions from Afghanistan,” Thurston said.

The veteran with nearly 30 years serving his country now finds himself in need of a little help.

“When I walk into a place and they start saying you can’t have your pet here. Well, he’s not a pet. He’s a service dog,” Thurston said.

Louie and his owner got their training at K9's for Warriors in Ponte Vedra Beach. Action News has learned our military heroes and others who rely on service dogs are facing a new enemy called skepticism.  It’s being created by pet owners without a legitimate disability.

“People who just want to take their pet with them and they’re not a disabled person, and they’re putting a vest on a dog, it’s like parking in the handicapped spot. It’s illegal. It’s wrong,” said Sandi Capra with K9’s for Warriors.

Thurston puts it another way. “I have a legitimate service dog and legitimate disabilities through the VA and also recognized through the Social Security administration.”

In Florida, there is no state law banning anyone from doing what took us less than 10 minutes to do. Action News went to Ebay and found dozens of people selling service dog vests and patches for pets without any certification required.  Action News bought one for just $40 to show how easy it is.

“When you put a vest on a dog that’s not a service dog you’re hurting one of our nation’s heroes. You’re making their life harder,” said Kapra.

Thurston just wants owners and their fake service animals to get real. “On camera I can say I’m upset about it.  Off camera, you could just think about what I’d say.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects owners with legitimate service animals. However, the law is a little more vague when it comes to someone using a service dog vest on a regular household pet. Legal experts Action News spoke with in Florida told us that a fake service animal may be classified as fraud and that person’s animal could potentially be taken from them.
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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Action News Jacksonville

LolaM - 2/7/2014 10:55 PM
0 Votes
1st, these articles hurt more than they help; you are giving self absorbed snowflakes step-by-step instructions. @Grumpyoldman, the ADA currently requires SDs to be potty, trained under control, and trained to do tasks or work that assists the handler (something they cannot do for themselves); it also clearly states that a calming effect/emotional support from its presence doesn't count. Educated businesses can use the two allowable questions to their advantage. My SD allows me to enjoy the little things in life most people take for granted and levels the playing field. With him, I can be (mostly)a gainfully employed taxpayer vs a home-bound recluse unable to get out of bed.

Grumpy Old Man - 2/7/2014 10:52 AM
1 Vote
@gorge -- Actually, no, it's not. There is NO requirement of ANY specific training, testing, or certification for "service animals." And, Federal law actually PROHIBITS any business owner from demanding documentation or certification of an animal's training. The "items" being sold are not "fake," they are just possibly being used in a misleading fashion by SOME of their buyers. The problem is that the ADA has given "disabled" people a vast array of special rights: special parking places, special animal access, special tax rates, special toilets, special relaxed academic testing conditions, and on and on. Honest people walk further, leave their pets at home, pay more taxes, take their tests in harsher environments, and poop in smaller, less-well equipped toilets. How many times do you see a car parked in a Handicapped spot, with the DRIVER still behind the wheel? How often is the car with the handicapped plates actually driven by an able-bodied person? In my opinion, it's appropriate to PREVENT discrimination against the disabled, BUT it's another matter when the pendulum swings so far that "the disabled" are given special privileges. And, it is just plain wrong and unfair to allow the irresponsible and morally dishonest to take special privileges to which they are not entitled. That rewards the dishonest at the expense of the honest. That just encourages the decay of society.

gorge - 2/7/2014 9:58 AM
0 Votes
felony fraud, but the government offers little help to the businesses to enforce the law. they should bust the people selling the fake items.

whosaysnocan - 2/7/2014 5:46 AM
1 Vote
People that do this are despicable! Our veterans deserve more respect for stepping up and providing the freedoms many take for granted. Would say shame on them, but obviously they have no conscience to be shamed. As one that deals with physical difficulties, I would like these "healthy" people to spend a day living with pain~physical & emotional~just to give them a taste of what it is like. Bravo for those that help those in real need.
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