Governor signs bill outlawing ‘fake’ service animals

PHOENIX – If you've been sneaking Fluffy into the grocery store on a claim it's your service dog, that time may be coming to an end.

Without comment, Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday signed legislation that makes it illegal to "fraudulent misrepresent'' any animal as a service animal to someone who operates a public place or business. Judges can impose fines of up to $250 for each violation.

The legislation is the culmination of efforts by Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, to keep family pets out of where they don't belong. And he doesn't care whether they're well behaved or not.

"I don't want some dog being wheeled around a supermarket in the same cart I'll put my food in later,'' he told colleagues during a hearing earlier this month.

But it remains to be seen whether the law has any teeth.

The issue is that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not permit a business owner to ask someone with an animal what is the person's handicap.

Instead, just two questions are permitted: Is the animal a service animal, and what tasks it has been trained to do. And if someone provides the right answers, the conversation stops there and the animal – limited in Arizona to a dog or miniature horse – is presumed to be allowed in.

The measure drew some opposition from those who argued the new law could embolden business owners to challenge people with legitimate service animals, especially when a disability is not obvious. For example, service animals are available to help individuals with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by "preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.''

They also questioned the need for a new law, pointing out that even service animals can be removed for bad behavior under existing statutes. That includes not only if the animals is a direct threat to the health or safety of others but whether it is housebroken or out of control.

And Arizona law also allows businesses to ban a service animal if it "fundamentally alters the nature of the public place or the goods, services or activities provided.”

The law will take effect 91 days after this year's legislative session ends.