Federal law doesn’t require service animals to have a license, certificate or professional training.
The American with Disabilities Act does not require any documentation or proof that an animal has been trained as a service animal. A mid-Missouri dog trainer said a lack in regulation is allowing some people to take advantage.
“People know there are a lot of loopholes in the law,” said Cindy Ludwig, a professional dog trainer in Waynesville. “It’s very loose, very vague in some ways.”
The ADA warns of individuals and organizations that sell service animal certificates.
The regulation states, “these documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.”
Jessica Young went to a trainer to teach her dog, a pitbull-boxer mix named Bella, basic obedience.
Although Young doesn’t have a disability, she said the trainer told her Bella should get service dog training.
“We got to talking and he said since you’re military we can make her a service dog,” Young said.
She said the trainer said getting a service dog certificate would allow the dog to accompany her on airplanes, in stores and avoid paying pet deposit fees.
Young said she paid $500 to the trainer to get her dog trained as a mobility assistance service animal.
The ADA allows two specific questions to be asked to determine if a dog is a service animal:
Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
The regulation doesn’t allow a request of documentation, require the dog to demonstrate a task or allow a person to inquire about a person’s disability.
Young said she began questioning her decision for Bella to get trained as a service dog.
“She didn’t actually get any service dog training,” Young said. “I thought it was extremely odd, but I don’t like confrontation so I didn’t really question it too much until the very end.”
Young contacted Ludwig in search of basic obedience training for Bella and explained her alleged service dog training experience.
“She showed me the certificate and I explained what a mobility assistance animal is and she said she didn’t have a disability,” Ludwig said. “The dog had never undergone any specialized training for service dog assistance.”
Ludwig said falsely calling an animal a service dog can negatively impact the overall public opinion of legitimate service animals.
She said she supports requiring service animals to get a federal or state certificate but not all dog trainers agree.
“It may limit who can have a service dog based on whether you can get to the licensing office,” said professional dog trainer Morgan Burkhardt.
She said a mandatory service dog certificate might cause barriers for some people with disabilities.