MYAKKA – There are many benefits to service and therapy dogs for those who really need them, but it becomes a problem when people start abusing the system.

It’s really easy to buy a service vest and throw it on your dog, it’s also illegal. Heather Junqueira is the President of BioScent K9. She says misusing any of the four types of support dogs hurts those who need one.

“A service dog is a dog that performs an act for a person with a disability that they could not otherwise perform themselves,” says Junqueira. Like a guide dog or a diabetic alert dog.

“Then you have therapy dogs, which are dogs who are trained to comfort people and make them feel better,” says Junqueira. Psychiatric service dogs are trained for people with a mental illness. “This is very different from the emotional support dogs that a lot of us are seeing out there right now,” she says.

Despite having no training or public access, fake emotional dogs are the ones restaurants are seeing and questioning. One of the biggest problems is when people who actually need a service dog are scrutinized because of people abusing the system.

Business owners are only allowed to ask two questions. “They’re allowed to ask if this is a service dog, they can ask that,” says Junqueira. “They can [also] ask what service does this dog provide?”

Junqueira encourages business owners to look for the signs of an untrained dog. “If the dog is barking and approaching people that it shouldn’t be approaching, then the business owners could have legal means to say ‘hey wait a minute,’” she says. “But it’s a very grey area and it makes it very difficult for business owners.”

Junqueira hopes people will follow the law, so those who need a support dog can have and use one without being scrutinized.

Impersonating a service dog can land you a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail. For more information about the different types of support dogs visit this website.

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Nicole Sommavilla
Multimedia journalist Nicole Sommavilla is a recent graduate from Ithaca College. Nicole was born and raised in Westchester, New York before she made the move to Florida. Being new to area, she loves meeting people and exploring the Suncoast. In her free time Nicole enjoys working out, being with her friends and family, and exploring the natural lands that surround her. Nicole has always loved writing and storytelling, which is how she discovered her passion for news. If you have a story idea or a news tip, feel free to email her at You can also follow her on Twitter (@nesommavilla) and Facebook ( for updates!
  • Shelby Clark

    This article is confusing and misleading in several ways, though the topic is also widely misunderstood. The description of service dogs is basically accurate. Putting a service dog vest on a dog is not per se illegal under federal law, but some states criminalize falsely claiming a dog is a service dog (which would take more than just an inaccurate vest).

    Emotional support animals (not just dogs) are not trained to perform a specific task related to their owner’s disability, but do help people with emotional or psychological/psychiatric disabilities. Federal law allows them to be used in commercial air travel and in housing covered by the Fair Housing Act.

    Therapy animals are those generally used by people (such as therapists) for the benefit of others. This includes helping children in therapy or family law situations, read-to-a-dog programs, airport greeters, and much more. Therapy animals have no federal protection and none in most states.

  • Lisa Eller

    There is an epidemic of people taking fake-parented-children in public and trying to pass them off as real-parented-children. Anyone can get a kid & put a t-shirt on it that says “little angel,” just to get to bring their child into a store or restaurant. You can buy those shirts on the Internet. Then the bratty kid disrupts everyone else’s meal, or maybe someone doesn’t like kids or is allergic to their snot, and has to sit next to them. It’s really a problem. Maybe people with truly well behaved children should have to show some kind of ID to take their kids in public so other people know they are legitimate.

    This is what it sounds like to have a legitimate service dog & hear people trying to propose any regulation about service dogs. There is no grey area in the law & no need for new laws. If an animal is not BEHAVING as required of a service dog, a business can legally make them leave. If the animal IS behaving properly, why is it any of your business if it is a “real” service dog or not? Where is the harm? I have a “real” service dog & an invisible disability. The biggest problem is people trying to pry into my personal medical information because they have appointed themselves as service dog police. All this media attention is only making more people suspicious & hostile toward people with real disabilities. It’s not your business why we have service dogs.