Lawmaker proposing legislation to crack down on service dog misuse

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) A new bill pre-filed in Frankfort looks make it illegal for Kentuckians to use their untrained pet as a service dog.

More than 385,000 dogs in the United States have been trained to provide assistance to someone with special needs, but some people want to take advantage of the policy by faking a service dog. The CEO for 4 Paws for Ability, a service dog organization based in Ohio, says the problem has gotten out of hand.

"This woman who approached me in the store, 'Oh, I want to get a little vest like that for my dog. How did you get it?' I looked at her and said, 'Are you disabled?' And I said, 'Well, do you want to chop your leg off or poke your eyeball out? What do you want to do? Because I'd rather leave my dog at home and be able-bodied," said CEO Karen Shirk

Experts say the ease of access for service dog vests and certificates online is a big part of the problem. Simply having a vest or certificate does not make a pet a service animal. Patrick Branam, whose son Bryson has a service animal, explains the relationship with a service animal is not the same as a relationship with a pet.

"He's not a pet. He's a tool in the box to care for Bryson. He's a tool in the box that's saved Bryson's life and that's a relationship and a bond that you just can't recreate," said Branam

A new pre-filed bill could make it illegal for Kentucky residents to try to pass their pet off as a service animal. Bill request 1-39, filed by Harrodsburg Representative Kim King, would update Kentucky's current law for service animals to prohibit misrepresentation of them.

Under the bill officers would be allowed to investigate, issue a citation, and require an individual to remove their dog from areas designated for service animals only.

"They're not thinking, if I take my dog out and it poops in the store and grabs food off the shelves and growls at somebody, now real people who have disabilities are going to have a harder time with those dogs, they're not thinking about the harm they're doing to other people. So the law isn't going to stop everybody," said Shirk

Shirk explains that service animals save people's lives, something pet dogs usually do not do.

"Being able to take your pet dog is not going to save your life, it's just something that you want to do," said Shirk

The bill will not be considered until January, when the Kentucky General Assembly begins its 2020 regular session.

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