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.