COLORADO SPRINGS — You've probably seen someone with a service dog when you've been out and about in southern Colorado, but how do you know if it's truly a trained service animal? News 5 is learning there continues to be a lot of confusion and gray areas surrounding service dog training across the nation and right here in Colorado.
Service dogs are supposed to be working animals that help people with disabilities. Unfortunately, a rise in fake service animals and broad standards are creating questions, confusion, and even frustration.
"My service dog, Cthulhu, does seizure detection for me. I got popped in the helmet in Iraq back in '07 and he'll give me an alert before I have a seizure," said local veteran David Proctor about his life with a service dog.
"I would like to have my eyes back and not have a dog but we, people with disabilities, really need these dogs to make life more accessible and mobile for us," said local councilwoman Yolanda Avila about her life with a service dog.
These are two examples in southern Colorado of service dogs that went through extensive training, in one case to help someone with a medical condition and another with vision issues.
But the standards for service dogs can create some confusion.
"We get calls all the time both from individuals in the community and from businesses who report being in situations where they are pretty confident they are dealing with maybe someone who is fraudulently representing an animal as a service dog," said Rocky Mountain ADA Director Emily Shuman.
Here's the problem. There's no ADA laws or guidelines clearly defining what type of training is required to label a dog as a service animal.
"That's probably one of the biggest areas of contention with service animals is that there is no registry, there's no certification that a trained service animal gets. There's no vest requirement, there's no harness requirement. None of that stuff is required," said Shuman.
When it comes to accountability, thanks to a law put on the books in 2017, it is illegal in the State of Colorado to misrepresent a pet as a service animal. You can be fined as much as $500 for breaking this law.
Service animals should not show signs of aggression like barking or biting and regardless of whether it's labeled as a service animal, it does not make any difference when it comes to Animal Law Enforcement investigations.
"They would still be held to the same behavior standard that any other dog was being held to regardless of their status as a service dog, or an emotional support pet," said Animal Law Enforcement Operations Manager Josh Holland.
From a consumer standpoint the gray areas in standards for service animals could leave people with disabilities in a vulnerable position for being misled or ripped-off during the process of training or finding a service dog of their own.
Before dealing with any company make sure you get your questions answered by local groups that specialize in ADA laws.
Here are two organizations News5 has worked with who are willing to answer your questions:
Rocky Mountain ADA Center
The Independence Center
Statement from CEO, Indy Frazee:
“Trained service animals are an important part of creating an inclusive environment and ensuring that people with disabilities are known, valued, and included in our community and beyond. The IC encourages individuals and businesses to become more educated about the different types of assistance animals and the laws and rights that apply to each of them.”