Flying the Friendly Skies with a Fake Service Dog

Pretending a pet is a service dog is illegal in Florida

Published: September 28, 2015


People who fake having service dogs so they can get them into airplane cabins for free or go into a restaurant should be shot in the foot and have their dogs taken away.

That's so they would know what it's like to be disabled and not have a service dog who can do things like push the "power" button on public doors. Of course, that's a temporary hobbling, not a life-long one, but it would give the fakers a small taste of what it's like to be disabled.

Faking makes lots of people angry for valid reasons.

And now, in Florida, you can be convicted of a misdemeanor for pretending your pet is a service dog. Yep, you can even do jail time for it under Bill CS.HB 71! The bill states: " ...provides penalty for knowing & willful misrepresentation with respect to use or training of service animal."

Way to go, Florida! Bravo!

The bill passed unanimously, by the way. Bipartisan agreement in this day and age is rare but the idea of fakers wandering about pretending their pets are service dogs is universally despised.


Because every time egocentrists (folks who don't understand any perspective other than their own) pretend a pet is a service dog, they endanger some of those long-sought and deserved protections for disabled people. It creates an atmosphere in which business people have to bend over backwards to accommodate fakers. They can't risk having their company unfairly bandied about as one that illegally doesn't follow the Americans with Disabilities Act, or be sued when they have done nothing wrong. It's one thing when it's valid - go nail 'em, in that case - but when it's not and someone's business is adversely affected by dishonest publicity, it's a nightmare of epic proportions. The perpetrator lies, and the business suffers while the egocentrist fakers smugly go on their self-absorbed way.

It's an extreme version of parking in the only remaining handicapped parking space because you're in a hurry while the disabled person with a legally valid reason to use it goes to the far back of a parking lot.

Your convenience is not the point.

"When untrained pets masquerade as service animals, there is increased risk that bona fide service dogs and their partners will face dangerous aggression or distraction in unexpected places," said Dr. Melissa Nixon, a veterinarian working with her service dog, Mo; Mo is her third in the past 18 years. "Venues such as hospital emergency rooms, weary of poorly trained or fake service dogs, have frequently tried to bar my bona fide service dog from their examination areas. This is especially difficult in Veterans Affairs facilities, where the law is currently unclear, but still aggravating in civilian facilities where the ADA law is clearly on the side of the bona fide team."

Phlebotimist Lisa Marie McKay said she can usually spot fake ones at her clinic because of the animal's behavior.

"An obviously untrained Pomeranian is sitting there, and the dog is physically upset because they are in a place they don't know, like a little kid," McKay said. "It's really obvious when someone has their baby with them or a working dog. Often the patients with small lap dogs have said that they are there for emotional service or anxiety, and I think that's a valid reason to have a service dog, but I question whether or not that's an accurate situation when the dog is riddled with anxiety himself, panting, twitching, and can't sit still. Unless someone is about to go into a seizure, I don't think so."

I really feel for restaurants that have to put up with fake dogs. Sure, service dogs can get sick in restaurants, but real service dogs don't bark during the meal or nip at a waiter's ankles.

Being taken advantage of makes me angry, and if numerous people with untrained dogs kept faking me into providing some amazing service that they would not normally have a chance of getting - because they don't deserve it - I too would come to hate the law. If my business regularly lost money because of it, I would become upset enough to fight the law and try to weaken it enough so that people couldn't take advantage of me, which would hurt the people the law is designed to help.

The airline abuse is my biggest peeve, and I have lots of peeves. Lots.

What fries me more than anything are the dog show competitors who pretend their show dog is a service dog so they can fly their dogs for free in the cabin rather than enduring the risks and costs of cargo where they are supposed to go. There are only so many seats per flight for service dogs. Plus, the business loses legitimate income. 

"Before any big dog competition it's impossible for anyone with a real service dog to find a place on a flight," said Mary Schurr, who shows her dogs frequently but only goes to shows she can drive to. "The spots have all been taken by competitors with fake service dogs. That's not right. As an advocate for real, trained service animals, I can see a time where someone faking it with no training will cause bad things to happen and things will only get tougher for those with a real need. It's a very well known dodge to book your dog as a service dog to get the cabin privilege. As soon as big events are noted, people book up flights."

The egocentrists who think they can fly under the radar don't seem to realize what harm they do: they are stealing from a business and should be arrested for it. It's no different than walking into a store and stealing a television. They are causing harm to the business, and the more lies a business is forced to endure, the more they want that law to go away even though they know disabled people need every protection afforded to them by the ADA.

"Oh, no, I'm not hurting anyone," they think. "Not me. I'll just get this dog from point A to point B for free. Or get a discount at the vet, or hang out at Outback Steakhouse. Why not? They'll never know."

Pet dogs may have the temperament to be a service dog, but they haven't been trained practically since birth for it. That is why it's usually easy to suspect a cheater.

Real service dogs are trained to become one from the moment they enter the training program at 8 weeks old. The puppies usually spend a couple of years with volunteer puppy raisers, and then the new owners are trained to work with that specific dog. It takes years, fund raising, a veritable village, and despite the enormous volume of volunteer hours it costs thousands of dollars to train a service dog.

The thing is, if you cheat on this in Florida, now you can do jail time. Hopefully other states will soon follow because it's the right thing to do. Disabled people have a tough enough time in life without jerks provoking attacks on the ADA that could result in less independence for them.

To the fakers out there: We're keeping an eye on you. The Florida law is just, and karma is justice personified.


Regina Glanzberg, DVM
March 15, 2018

As frustrating and inappropriate as falsifying a service dog is, I believe it is equally bad manners to suggest shooting the jerk who tries to pass off their ill-tempered malti-poo-tzu.

Phyllis DeGioia
June 30, 2016

Hi Damaris, What a terrible experience! So many problems arise from fake service dogs, and this is one I never heard of. Always a first time, I suppose. I'm sorry we cannot answer your questions, and your own attorney is more capable than we are. However, knowing that you can buy vests on the Internet, it would not be at all surprising for someone to buy or make their own certificate. Whether this is legally actionable would, I presume, depend on many factors, such as the laws in your state, whether or not the airline knew the dog had just bitten someone, if the dog was not a trained service dog (obviously not), and so on.  The ADA has large loopholes about certificates so that disabled people don't have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get one for their dog, so I think you would be unable to win a lawsuit based on that. I don't particularly agree with that provision, because that is exactly what allows this kind of abuse, but that's the way it is. I would think - but don't know - that if they knew the dog had just bitten someone in the airport, they would not allow the dog to fly as a service dog. If you find out anything, or decided to move forward legally, please let us know. I'm very interested in the outcome.

June 29, 2016

Hello. I got bit by a supposed service dog at work( airport). After getting bit the dog was allowed to fly. My attorney went searching for the dogs certificate to verify he was a service dog and it doesn't come up. The owner provided a certificate stating such but there isn't any validity. I now want to know if I can also sue the airline for allowing such dog to continue his travels after biting me and having a fake certificate. Thank you for any information you can provide.

Joseph Phligh
February 2, 2016

I was recently surprised by how common this is when I saw someone on social media trying to rehome her elderly dog. She said the reason was that the landlord would no longer allow pets. I was shocked by the number of people who came out of the woodwork to say "just get a doctor's note and make him a service dog; then you can sue the landlord if he says anything else." And they each had a personal testimonial about how easy it was for each of them to turn their regular pet into a protected class service dog, and use this to abuse whatever system (rent, travel, bus, etc.) was causing them inconvenience. It's a shame as this really does cause harm to those people with genuine service animals, as people start to assume they are frauds as well. Fines and jail for the fakers would be a great thing.

Pete Gitta
January 6, 2016

There should be a crackdown, and a federal certificate required to travel with a service dog...AND EVERYONE should be required to pay the $125 airline fee, disabled, or not.

Doc Vicki
October 30, 2015

Seems like we really need a standardized version of what a service animal is and one legal form that shows your animal is one.  Also we need a list of who is allowed to certify a pet as a service animal.  I had one client that always flies with her 2 cats because they are emotional support animals.  She asked me to write a letter to that effect.  I don't feel I am at all qualified to judge her mental state and told her as much.

Penny Leisch
October 10, 2015

What isn't mentioned is that there is a difference between the emotional support animal requirements in terms of training. They don't have to meet the same standards as a service animal. They also do not have to be accorded the same privileges. I agree there is a problem. Educating everyone about the differences and finding ways to understand and enforce the accommodations for each is the key.

Dr. Amy
October 9, 2015

This is a very well written article and I agree with the authors point. People who try to pass off their pet dog as a service dog are hurting disabled people and businesses. As a veterinarian, I have seen animals in this situation and I can tell you that in some cases it is not good for the dog either, such as taking an overweight arthritic dog and claiming it is your mobility dog.

Dr. Snyder
October 5, 2015

As a veterinarian this is particularly irritating.  They try to get discounts from us too by pretending their vicious untrained ankle biter of a dog is a service dog when they can't even control the dog.

September 30, 2015

It's a shame the airline is so greedy.  I pay for the space under the seat what is the difference if my feet, my laptop, my purse or dog is in that space. I have already paid for it.  The airline want another hundred bucks, and doesn't offer any extra space.  It's a rip.

September 29, 2015

Maybe airlines should be held more accountable for the deplorable state their cargo is in that these animals have to otherwise travel with. I have personally seen many deaths, injuries (physical and mental), and loss of pets that have to travel in cargo. I agree untrained/unregistered pets should not be acting as service animals, however many people have these animals as emotional support and have verified letters from licensed mental health professionals. ESA animals are not held to the same training standards though common sense would hope that people would be aware of a poorly trained animal being in these situations.

September 29, 2015

The problem is that there are plenty of disabled people with the same problem as the general public of wanting their pet dog with them even if it is not legal or appropriate for their problems. They go into the doctor, claim problems they don't have and get a letter. Plenty of disabled people also fake that their dog is a trained service dog. Just because one is eligible to use a trained service dog doesn't mean that the dog they have with them is one. The behavior of the dog and the handler nearly always tells the story. Service dogs have bad days...but usually it is being distracted or sick...not aggression and a whole host of other things that real service dogs are trained not to do or expect in their everyday lives.

September 29, 2015

I don't know Michelle, does this apply to you? Do you have a diagnosed moderate to severe mental health issue that is in the DSMV manual? These laws are meant to protect people with serious issues...not those who have a hangnail or a transient uneasiness. If you don't then yes, this applies to you. People with mild anxiety or none at all talk their doctors (who are not experts on the law or service dogs) into writing doctor notes all the dang time (a form of malingering)- you can't get on an air flight with an emotional support animal without one. Yep, even the breeders. So I don't know...does this apply to you?

September 29, 2015

They should ask for service dog documentation at airports. I don't believe that violates ADA. But even if it does, give priority seating to those with service animal documentation.

Nancy Boyd
September 28, 2015

Beautifully written and right on point. While it's rare that I encounter a fake service dog I have seen a few, and their owner's attitudes are truly appalling.  They act like entitled, spoiled brats (and probably are.) Them and the shiny black SUVs or trucks with the muscle guys in them who smirk at you when you circle with your handicapped hangtag waiting for the parking spot you legally deserve while they saunter about with swagger as if to say "gotcha".  (By the way, THAT attitude is really disgusting -- and it's out there.  A lot.)

Phyllis DeGioia
September 28, 2015

No, Michele, it does not apply to you! I'm talking about people who have absolutely no need for a service or therapy dog pretending that their pet is one - people who either don't want to pay to fly their pet, or are not willing to fly them in cargo (in which case they should find another mode of transportation to a dog show). This has nothing to do with people who have a real need.

Michelle Cory
September 28, 2015

i fly with my emotional support animal.  i have a letter from my doctor.  i am on disability.  does this apply to me

September 28, 2015

It has all gotten out of hand.  These poor airlines have been made to "accommodate" passengers.  Enough is enough.  Have you seen then number of passengers in the airport who have "emotional support" animals (dogs, cats, pigs, etc) with them.  I'd feel better about flying, too, if I had one of my cats with me.  But I wouldn't do that to my cat and I'll see my doctor for anti-anxiety, anti-nausea medications if I need them... or find a different mode of transportation.  Whiny humans are being catered to by liberals.  Stricter guidelines are needed.

Shanna Compton
September 28, 2015

I can hardly wait until there is a law like this in my state.  Seeing the numerous "service" dogs who are obviously owned by humans who think they are entitled drives me bonkers -- especially since I have had the honor of working with dogs who actually provide a service such as guide dogs for the blind, or autism service dogs.

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