Proposed Texas House Bill would punish people who use 'fake' service animals

Published: Apr. 24, 2017 at 3:18 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 24, 2017 at 3:32 AM CDT
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LUBBOCK, TX (KAUZ) - The Texas House is preparing to hear bill 2992, which is aimed at punishing those who use "fake" service animals.

The bill would make it a misdemeanor to "fit an animal with a harness, collar, vest, sign, tag or leash of the type commonly used by persons with disabilities, so that the person can gain access, permission or benefits provided to persons with disabilities."

If the bill passes, it would make the crime punishable by as much as a $300 fine and up to 30 hours of community service.

While organizations as large as the American Kennel Club have voiced their support, the consideration is also receiving praise from those within the guide dog community.

"I need Yankee for a lot of things. When I go to class, I have to pick up his harness entrusting that he won't lead me out into an oncoming car, or lead me off a curb," says Texas Tech student, John Vickers, who is also visually impaired.

Vickers says if passed, this bill would make a big difference in his life.

"It's just very discouraging when you get to some place and people have been there with their fake service animals, or proclaimed service animals, and they've set a bad image for people like myself with a real service animal," Vickers says.

"I've seen some sad situations, where false certifications and harnesses and vests that go on these service animals are sold online for around $100. It actually costs about $42,000 to train a service animal," Vickers says.

Training that Sami Spidell and Timothy Ewing understand first hand, as they are currently co-trainers for Guardian, who is part of Lone Star Guide Dogs for the Blind.

"He wasn't even able to go in public until later on and there's phases of different steps we take to more difficult public settings, so we can make them successful," Spidell says.

Ewing says training Guardian is more than regular pet ownership.

"For us, it's like a privilege, to have him for other people - they're just abusing their power to go just go out and get these certifications from a vet. It really is hard for us when we're trying to train them for a greater good, overall," Ewing says.

While these three are part of the guide dog community in different ways, they all have the same message about these animals.

"Don't pass it off as a fake service animal. Do the right thing," Vickers says.

"It's not a vest that makes the service dog, it's the dog and the training and the time that's put into them," Spidell says.

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