News 5 Investigates: Airlines and businesses see spike in “fake” service animals

News 5 Investigates: Airlines and businesses see spike in “fake” service animals

to a peacock we’ve showed you the exotic pets the people have tried to take on airplanes and now disability advocates say the problem is only getting worse with pet owners abusing laws and meant to protect people with actual disabilities and we should point out it is illegal in Colorado to misrepresent a pet as a service animal but chief investigative reporter Erik Ross found that’s not stopping people including doctors from skirting the law Erik shayla good afternoon instead of risking a fine for declaring your pet a service animal when in fact it’s not people instead are registering their pets as emotional support animals this allows them to fly on airplanes in the cabin with you and live in places with no pet policies mental health professionals are supposed to evaluate patients before declaring them in need of an emotional support animal but our investigation found one doctor bypassing that process we’ve heard the stories of people taking their parakeet onto the airplane and dogs that are not trained Pat going sits on the Colorado Advisory Council for persons with disabilities he says there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the difference between emotional support animals service animals and the people who misrepresent them and so because of that we decided that we’re gonna do an open house to talk about both under the umbrella of assistance animals mr. going along with advocacy manager Becca Michael are working hard to educate the community on how to handle encounters with people and their pets a service dog is a dog that is trained to perform a specific task for example Councilwoman Yolanda avi laws die dog named Puma I would like to have my eyes back and not have a dog but we people with disabilities we really need these dogs to make life more accessible and mobile for us service dogs go through extensive training and commonly help people who are blind or have some medical condition however there is no formal training for emotional support animals there is no official way to certify those those animals so there’s a great deal of confusion and unfortunately a great deal of abuse true service animals are allowed to go wherever its owner goes but when it comes to emotional support animals federal law only protects your right to live and fly with them emotional support animals do not have to be granted access inside businesses but most people don’t know that if you’re looking at an animal that is not a dog or a miniature horse then that should be your first identifier that that is not a service animal we’ve been trying for several years to get Department of Justice to formalize some sort of certification program so that the abuse would be minimized emotional support animals have become increasingly controversial for example a kangaroo someone tried to bring into a McDonald’s the unruly pig that got kicked off a US Airways flight or the turkey that got a seat on Delta Airlines complaints against emotional support animals on airplanes alone has skyrocketed in recent years from just 432 complaints in 2010 to more than 2,400 in 2016 I’ve noticed like in the last couple years it’s gotten really bad like I just went to a luncheon and somebody had their dog in there and that dog just saw Puma and started yapping away and so it disrupted everything not just anyone can claim their pet as an emotional support animal the process requires a doctor’s note from a licensed mental health professional but we found a website and license doctor in Colorado willing to write us this support animal authorization letter for one hundred and fifty dollars using one of our station employees we filled out a quick questionnaire on whether an emotional support animal would help with daily activities we submitted the application at 9:28 on a Saturday night seven minutes later at 9:35 we got this signed letter from dr. Michael J moss he says he evaluated our engineers mental health condition and is familiar with her history and with the functional limitations imposed by her emotional and mental health issue of course she has no mental health issue but we had no issue getting a doctor to say so and prescribe her one emotional support Pig armed with her letter and with the help of a pot-bellied pig owner Portia is a three-year-old a pot-bellied mini pig we hit the streets to see if anyone would question our emotional support Pig our first stop Starbucks Portia who we renamed Marilyn for this experiment is a little shy at first and isn’t quite sure about going inside but that doesn’t stop Starbucks employees from running to the door come on Marilyn not to kick the pig out but to pet it and even take pictures even patrons couldn’t believe what was happening we got Marilyn in and out of Starbucks no problem next stop come and go our employee takes Marilyn up and down the aisles and nobody says a word when our employee goes to checkout at the counter neither employee does anything after a lot of walking Marilyn is hungry for a turkey bacon sandwich so we stopped that subway Marilyn stands quietly as everyone sits down and eats she’s fantastic she really is of course she doesn’t go unrecognized by customers what was the most surprising aspect out of this entire experiment no one stopped us was the weirdest thing everyone was incredibly friendly outgoing excited to see us held doors for us no one questioned bringing a pig inside a subway or a Starbucks you had to see the looks on people’s faces what what were their reactions when they saw you walk in with a pig a lot of white eyes a lot of laughing and a lot of oh my gosh oh my gosh excited voices but the real test would be when we tried to take Maryland to the movies 18 19 20 30 and 50 employees let Marilyn her owner and our employee walk right into the theater to see the movie little not a single person requested to see our emotional support letter but its encounters like this that Councilwoman Avila says can ruin it for people with actual disabilities sometimes when I go to a restaurant they’re not really sure anymore they’re not sure if that if that dog should be in there they’ll tell me well you can stay on the patio or you know we just don’t allow dogs in here and I have to explain what the situation is and if you’re uncertain whether someone’s pet is truly a service animal there are two questions disability advocates say you can ask question number one is this a service dog question number two what is it trained to do online at we have a detailed side-by-side comparison outlining more of the key differences between emotional support and service animals as well as what you legally can and cannot ask someone and shayla disability advocates have been calling on lawmakers in the Department of Justice to regulate this industry for quite some time now so far no luck and unfortunately advocates fear if the abuse will continue and tell somebody steps in and does something and what about that doctor that prescribed the pig will he face any consequences at this point in time the state has just confirmed that the board of psychologist examiners is investigating this doctor based on the information we provided them with we’ll be sure to let our viewers know what happens all right thank you so much Eric

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

1 Comment

  1. Emotional Support Animals aren't Service Animals. So while yes, the ESA approval was obviously disingenuous, an ESA doesn't have the same rights as a Service Animal. ESAs only have housing and air travel protections, no rights to be with you at a store.

    So, this whole thing is inaccurate. The fake Service Animals problem you claim to be reporting about is people actually using a service animal jacket and claiming they're a service animal, not claiming an ESA,

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