South Sound News

Service dog vests sold at Washington State Fair stirring controversy

A booth at the Washington State Fair is being blasted on social media for selling vests for service dogs.

Critics say the booth makes it easy for people to buy a vest for their pet and pass it off as a service animal.

KIRO 7 spoke to officials at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup as well as dog trainers and the owner of the business behind the booth about the issue.

A post Facebook was shared by a group called South Sound Freedom Fences, and many in the comment section called out the stall at the Washington State Fair for selling the vests.

The owner of Dogology NW confirmed to KIRO 7 that her company set up the stall.

Some fairgoers, such as Leah D’Amico from Puyallup, expressed reservations about the idea.

“I don't think they should be allowed to (sell them),” she said.

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Others like Juanita Arrant admitted that it’s a hard thing to police at a place like a fair.

“I think fairs are really crazy. They have all kinds of vendors, all kinds of kooky stuff,” said Arrant.

We spoke to trainers and the owner of Dogology NW on Monday to help sort out the controversy.

“It is not illegal for them to be selling service dog vests,” said Christina Ginchereau, who works with Brigadoon Service Dogs in Bellingham.

She helps train service dogs and says the vests should only be worn by trained service animals and not emotional support dogs.

“There is a lot of confusion because people have a hard time understanding the difference between ESA dogs and service dogs,” said Ginchereau.

She's worried some pet owners might get the wrong idea if they see vests for sale at the fair.

“It probably is not the best to be selling it at such a public event,” said Ginchereau.

KIRO 7 asked fair officials if a news crew could come into the fair to see the vendor stall but were told no.

Mary Davies with Dogology Northwest spoke to KIRO 7. She says while the vests are for sale, which is legal, her group does try to vet the people buying them.

“We're kind of grateful because now we can tell what really happened,” said Davies.

She says since the Facebook post, vests have been stolen, and they've removed the service labels after threats and angry comments online.

“We're there to promote training. That's the whole reason we're there, we didn't know the vests were going to cause controversy.  We thought they would be the conversation starter,” said Davies.

State law limits the definition of service animal and imposes fines for misrepresentation. But Davies says Dogology Northwest is helping to train service dogs and she hopes fairgoers understand that.

“I am devastated, absolutely devastated. We're here to create community awareness and help prevent the misuse of service vests,” said Davies.

Washington State Fair spokeswoman Stacy Van Horne released a statement to KIRO 7 saying:

“Dogology NW is a commercial vendor at this year’s Washington State Fair. They train and sell service animals. Additionally, at their booth here, they sell pet products including dog service vests. They thoroughly vet, who they sell the vests to, in order to ensure they are only being sold to legitimate service animals.”