Faking a Service Animal Status is Illegal

States like Minnesota now have penalties for it

By Benjy Schirm, J.D. | Last updated on July 22, 2022

When emotional support animals were introduced, it seemed to spread in no time, taking away from legitimate service dogs. Soon they were everywhere and, naturally, some people took liberties with the unrestricted freedoms. An emotional support peacock, duck, and hamster are examples successfully allowed on flights under the guise of necessity. But in 2018, Minnesota and other state legislatures passed state laws to crack down.

The idea is to protect those who genuinely need the animals, as they should not be hassled or have to jump through hoops to do so. It’s also to prevent situations in which untrained animals are confined in pressurized cabins and lash out on unsuspecting passengers. Until now, it was surprisingly easy to acquire a vest and even documentation that would prove you own a trained service animal without ever having to train your animal. Websites abound offering for a small fee everything you would need to take your animal through security at concerts, public buildings and even at the airport.

The Minnesota Legislature caught up to these fraudulent actions with a new law criminalizing the misrepresentation of a service or emotional support animal or trained service dog. This crime is a petty misdemeanor upon a first offense and comes with a $100 fine; a second offense is a misdemeanor and can come with larger fines, and comes with an imposition of 30 hours of community service with an organization that serves individuals with disabilities.

Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, it is “an unfair discriminatory practice” for a business owner, operator, or manager of any places of public accommodation—including a hotel, restaurant, or public conveyance—to prohibit a person with physical or sensory disabilities from taking a service or assistance animal into the public place, so long as the service animal is properly harnessed or leashed so that the person can maintain control of them. The person cannot be charged an extra fee or charge due to the presence of their service animal.

Businesses are also required to permit the presence of a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Minnesota borrows its definition of “service animal” from the federal law. The 2010 ADA Title III Regulations define it as a dog (and, in some circumstances, a miniature horse may also qualify) that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental health disabilities.

If you have been masquerading with a fake service animal or fake service dog, be warned. With this law, you are no longer free to do as you’d like with no repercussions. If you encounter criminal charges, make sure you contact a reputable and experienced attorney to ensure the punishments are not excessive. If you’d like to ensure proper certification, speak with one experience in animal law

For more information on this area of law, see our overview of animal law.

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