Misrepresenting ‘service animals’ may become illegal

PHOENIX – Saying owners are abusing the law, a Republican state senator wants to make it illegal to misrepresent a dog as a "service animal'' to bring it into places where pets are not allowed.

The proposal by John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills would allow judges to impose fines of up to $250 on someone who fraudulently misrepresents an animal as a service animal or service animal in training to anyone who operates any business or recreation site open to the public. That also includes buses, taxis and ambulances.

How that would work, Kavanagh said, is an individual would have to produce proof that the animal had actually been trained for a specific chore covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The senator said nothing in SB 1040 would allow a business owner to refuse to let someone enter the premises solely because of the failure to provide such written proof. In fact, existing Arizona law prohibits requiring identification for the service animal.

Instead, Kavanagh said, it would be up to a business owner to file a complaint and have the issue heard by a court.

But Sarah Kader, attorney for the Arizona Center for Disability Law, said that presents problems of its own.

Kader said she could foresee a business owner calling the police on someone. Then the officer would issue a citation, forcing the person with the disability to find his or her way to court to answer the charges. And if that person lacked transportation, she said, a warrant for arrest would be issued.

She also questioned whether there really is a problem.

Kader pointed out that existing Arizona law already gives businesses the right to eject any animal – including a service animal – if it misbehaves, is not housebroken, poses an "undue burden'' or "poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others.''

Underlying all this is an Arizona law which makes it illegal for anyone who operates a public place to discriminate against people with disabilities who use service animals if what the animals do is "directly related to the individual's disability.''

That includes everything from people with vision and hearing loss to balance stability, pulling a wheelchair, and sensing when someone is about to have a seizure.