"Today, any pet owner can go online and buy a vest for a dog to pass it off as a service animal to gain access to restaurants, hotels and places of business." That's the word from a Republican state representative who introduced a bill in Massachusetts that would crack down on pet owners who claim their animals are service animals. Similar bills have already been enacted in 19 states, and still more states are considering implementing them, USA Today reports. Most of the laws hit anyone misrepresenting their animal as a service animal with fines up to $500.
There are an estimated 20,000 service dogs in the US; they are specifically trained to do tasks for a person with a disability and can help with disabilities ranging from vision impairments to seizures to autism and more. However, there's no way to verify whether an animal has undergone service training, making these laws tricky to actually enforce. (One law professor says he's not aware of any prosecutions related to service animal laws.) But advocates of such laws say they're necessary, citing incidents in which non-service-animals have misbehaved in places they shouldn't have been allowed, casting real service animals in a bad light—or, in some cases, even injuring an actual service animal. (Read more service dog stories.)