Bill looks to crack down on fake service animals

A bill at the State House is looking to crack down on phony service animals, by making it illegal for someone to bring in a bogus working dog into public where pets are usually not allowed.

By now, we’ve all heard stories of iguanas, ferrets and even dogs being exposed as something other than service animals, and as it stands right now, there’s really no punishment for trying to scam the system.

Rep. Bernard Hawkins (D-Glocester, Smithfield) is taking another crack at the bill that would protect the legitimacy of service animals by punishing the frauds. Hawkins said the fake working animals discredit those who have a real job to do.

“There’s a need for service animals in society and the misrepresentation is getting out of control,” Hawkins said. “They think they can bring any pet with them wherever they go and the call them a service animal. But it’s just not the right thing to do.”

The bill was introduced the last two sessions by Rep. Hawkins’ predecessor, Thomas Winfield. Winfield did not seek reelection and now focuses his time on his third generation business, Anderson Winfield Funeral Home.

Winfield has a special employee, his golden retriever Buddy. Buddy is a facility therapy dog who went through hours of training to learn how to help people cope with the loss of a loved one.

Winfield’s bill passed the full House but died in the Senate. 

He hopes this time around it becomes law because it’s harmful to animals with jobs, like Buddy.

“You can just go on the internet, you can print out a label and say ‘hey this is my service dog,'” he said. “We’re on to the [fake service animals]. Knock it off.”

Under this bill, if you’re caught with a fake service animal, you face up to 30 hours of community service working with an organization that serves people with disabilities.

The bill, H 5299, passed in the Health, Education, and Welfare Committee this week and could face a full house vote as soon as next week.