• People faking pets as service animals could face $500 fine if Washington bill passes

    By: Ashli Blow, KIRO 7 Digital Producer


    Despite the fawning from diners when a dog enters a restaurant, it creates a dilemma for business owners and people with disabilities when pet owners bring in a furry friend that’s not registered as a service animal.

    It’s partially why a handful of Washington state representatives introduced a house bill that, if passed, would allow law enforcement officers to write a ticket up to $500 for pet owners misrepresenting their animals.

    "Regrettably, fake service dogs are becoming a problem," primary bill sponsor Mike Steele (R-Chelan) wrote in an email. "Some people try to pass their pet off as a service animal to gain access to places of business, like restaurants or hotels. These pets are not trained and often misbehave."

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    The sponsors of the bill say they don't have anything against dogs, but that this is a matter of placing more responsibility on pet owners so that those with disabilities gain "unquestionable acceptance" for their real need of service animals.

    HB 2622 gives definitions for business owners and police officers on what the law accepts as a service animal, and it does not cover emotional and therapy pets not registered as a service animals. The bill also gives guidance for service animals outside of dogs, such as a miniature horse.

    With these clarifications, as well as potential penalties on pet owners, businesses could more easily abide by Washington state law that mandates they allow service animals into their business. KIRO 7 News did an investigation that showed some of the issues that local restaurants ran into when people faked their pets as service animals.

    "With animals making messes on their floors, barking at their customers, lunging at people — not all of these animals are well behaved ... A lot of store owners are so frightened about being sued or having a complaint filed against them, so they don't do anything about an animal misbehaving, " Laura Lindstrand with the Washington State Human Rights Commission said.

    HB 2822 would allow police officers to ask questions rather than business owners. Officers could investigate whether a person with a dog inside a public place actually owns a service animals. If that person refuses to answer, the officer can give a ticket and ask the person to leave with their dog. The bill lays out a tier of penalties that range from a $25 fine all the way up to $500 — depending on the class of the civil infraction handed down from the office.

    According to a spokeswoman Steele's office, the bill could be picked up anytime for discussion on the state house floor. If the bill makes it through legislature, and is signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, then it could go into effect as early as Jan. 2019.

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