Impersonating service dogs hurts those who need them


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 and Facebook for updates!