Healthy People Are Faking Disabilities To Get A Service Dog

You may think of service animals as those puppies that keep blind people from strolling into traffic, but they’re available for all sorts of conditions, like PTSD or nervousnes. Or nothing at all, if you’re willing to lie.

Yes, as you might have noticed if you’ve flown next to a suspiciously unruly rottweiler or find three humping dogs forming a canine centipede at the DMV, there are a hell of a lot more service animals now than there used to be, and some of their owners seem perfectly healthy. Why in the hell would somebody fake a disability merely to get a fake service animal? To find out, we talked with “Ashley, ” who did precisely that.

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Does Your Lease Say “No Pets Allowed? ” Well …

This is the big one. If your pet countings as a supporting or assistance animal, you and your dog/ cat/ goat can stride merrily past “No pets allowed” signs all day long. That’s what get Ashley into the game.

“When my grandmother passed away, ” she says, “I got her dog, a little nine-month-old terrier. I was going to shelter him, but after a few months sorting things out at my grandma’s house in Arizona, he became my little baby.” Then she returned home and introduced her landlord to her brand-new roommate, a very good boy. The landowner said, “‘I guess that means you’re giving notice.’ Because the lease had a no-pets policy.”

But Ashley already had a counterattack ready in the form of a pile of documents prepared by her statute student nephew. The terrier, she told the landlord, was her assistance animal. According to the Fair Housing Act, renters are welcome to keep assistance animals, as “No pets” policies don’t apply, since such animals aren’t pets. Landowners can’t even charge extra fees or a pet deposit. Ashley was welcome to keep it, so long as it was never documented being aggressive and required no unreasonable accommodations.

PawPADS So, presumably no emotional support buffalo.

Those special laws weren’t meant for her and her grandma’s terrier. They were entailed for animals that help people with physical disabilities( such as guide dogs for the blind ), or convenience animals for people with severe mental disease like PTSD. Ashley simply claimed to have depression, having gotten the diagnosis specifically so she could keep the dog. The landlord said she’d soon hear from his lawyer. She never did. “I probably seem terrible to you, ” she says, “but I like to tell myself that at least I had a reason. I was depressed at the time, and I didn’t want to see something of my grandma’s go away. I grew attached, and I did what I had to do.”

But that was only the beginning.

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With A Fake Service Animal, You’re An Instant VIP

Want to bring your dog on an aeroplane? You can stow it under a seat for around $125, if it can fit. You can send it in cargo for $300. Or, if you call it a subsistence animal, it rides for free thanks to the Air Carrier Access Act. “It’s almost a secret club at airports and in airplanes, ” says Ashley. “Perfectly healthy people come in with service puppies, and there’s always a knowing nod we have.”

The Easter Turkey Files/ Facebook It doesn’t even need to be a dog.

Outside of housing and flights, the rules are a lot tighter. Business are free to kick out emotional support animals. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, they only have to allow service animals that are trained to perform specific tasks for the disabled, with “being h* ckin cute and floofy” not counting as a specific service task. But plenty of businesses aren’t clear on the distinction, so they err on the side of letting assistance animals past every velvet rope.

“When you think of every place you’ve seen them, I’ve taken him there, ” says Ashley. “Lyfts. The metro. On beaches which said ‘No dogs allowed.’ Malls. Hotels. At first I did it because I wanted to see how far I could take it, but besides a few eateries, I found out that there’s virtually no limit.” Once, she even brought him into a spa, a place not commonly receptive to loud barks and shedding. “The manager had to come down and part a wall of employees for me, all of whom looked pissed.”

From skipped fees and other perks, she reckons she saves a couple thousand dollars a year.

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Certifying A Dog Can Be Nothing But An Elaborate Charade

There are a few routes, with varying degrees of legitimacy, to “certify” your animal( assistance animals today scope from cats to the frickin’ turkeys seen above ). The first is you go the whole nine yards and get a real one. A puppy may cost tens of thousands of dollars to train, and unless you’re legit incapacitated and need it to open doors or push buttons, you aren’t getting one.

The second route is outright fake certification, thanks to wide selection of “official service dog registries” awaiting you on the internet. “I signed up with four services, ” says Ashley. “I had to stop on the first four because it was almost like a swindle. They’d let my puppy be licensed based solely on what I told them. It didn’t feel right.”

Those cost around $100 each. It’s a great deal if your conscience doesn’t object, and altogether sufficient for convincing people who don’t know better. According to the ADA, you don’t actually need to carry any certification. Business must take you at your word after asking merely two questions: Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability ?( to root out emotional support puppies) and What work or task has the dog been trained to perform ?( for further rooting out ). Oddly enough, the savviest business owners know that dog proprietors who do carry around certifications for their puppies are the ones most likely to be fakers.

The third way to certify your puppy is the gray market approach, whereby you mix the previous two into what can best be described as “legal-ish.” This starts with a medical diagnosis. “I was thinking about PTSD, but depression seemed the easiest, ” says Ashley. “I believed, ‘I get depressed sometimes, ‘ and I went to my doctor. I told him how bad it felt and how I didn’t want to use pills. I needed something ‘like a rock.’ It wasn’t hard selling him on being depressed. My grandma had just died, and I had been in a hospital in Arizona about depression because of how blue I was.”

Armed with a doctor’s note, she reached out to a certification group. Again, there’s no official registry for service dogs, but some private companies will at least test your dog out to see that it’s manageable in public and likely won’t abruptly maul a newborn. “I was instructed to walk down the street with him, ” remembers Ashley. “He was fine. Then I was told to bring him nearby a few big dogs. He seemed a little intimidated, but again, he was fine. And that was it.”

But even more powerful than any piece of paper when it comes to fooling people is an adorable service dog vest, which Ashley grabbed off Amazon with no verification at all.

Amazon With free shipping, you can’t afford not to take advantage.

“Before I got everything I needed, I took my dog for a walking with his vest on, and I was given right of way. Joggers who otherwise wouldn’t have moved before envisage the vest when they were coming near and got out of my style. That little vest is a powerful thing.”

And truly, what’s the damage?

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Actual Disabled People Get Screwed

As fun as it would be to sneak your dog somewhere it shouldn’t be, like an operating room or a SpaceX rocket, there are reasons businesses maintain animals out. Even Ashley sees the other side now and again, like when she was on a flight to New York full of untrained “service dogs” barking their heads off and stewardesses trying vainly to quiet them all. Or the time she took her puppy to the grocery store and considered six other puppies there too, forcing the manager to sub in for employees who had allergies. “He said, ‘Do you absolutely need a puppy with you? This is insane. We can scarcely operate a business.’ I didn’t say anything, but I felt bad.”

Many, many people are getting into the fake assistance animal game, and the real victims are those people who truly need them, but are disbelieved because of all the fraud out there.( Which is our biggest fear even running this article. Please do not go around accusing strangers of scam because they don’t “seem” incapacitated enough for their animal !) Some service puppy owners report get denied hotel rooms( Ashley herself is convinced she gets the worst room possible when hotels learn of her dog) or kicked off flights.

“Charlotte” is a friend of Ashley’s who has a legitimate emotional support dog. “She saw a assassination happen and has had PTSD ever since, ” she says. “Bad PTSD. Without her dog, I don’t think she could leave the house.” And Charlotte happened to take her dog to the grocery store( the same store as the allergies incident) when a pair of fake service dogs decided to chew up some stuff on the bottom shelves and then poop all over the floor. An employee hollered, “Hey, control your puppy! ” at Charlotte, the only innocent dog owner there, triggering her PTSD.

Not that that’s enough to induce Ashley keep her own puppy at home. ” My dog isn’t promoting service puppies being out of control, ” she clarifies. “I’m … probably voicing hypocritical still, but I said what I said.”

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People Are Catching On, And Fakers Do Get Punished … Sometimes

Those incidents we mentioned just now, when businesses turn away service puppies? They aren’t that common. Denying a service dog can been transformed into a PR nightmare, whether it’s by a hotel, an airline, or Popeye’s Chicken. “That’s why we aren’t called out on it more often, ” says Ashley. “No one wants to be the person bashing the handicapped out of something they need.” So when the owner of one family-style restaurant refused her puppy entry and finally threatened to call the police, Ashley wasn’t shaken. “Do it! ” she said. “They’ll tell you how wrong you are! “

Within ten minutes, the policemen were there.

“I was doing OK in convincing them until they asked if it was an emotional support dog, ” says Ashley. “To which I said yes. They knew about the service and support distinction, so they knew a lot about these laws. I didn’t have to, but I showed them my certification for my puppy, and they said, ‘Haven’t seen them like this before.'” Now she started to panic, but she was saved by a random coincidence. The officer recognized the name of her doctor and decided to let her go. Petty corruption for the win!

California currently has a $1,000 penalty and six months in jail lined up for faking a service dog. In Florida, it’s $500 and two months in jail. Other nations have measures too, and in case it sounds like a slap on the wrist, that’s per count. So Ashley now keeps a lower profile — including taking tips-off on how legitimate subsistence animal owners act. “Owners with real problems won’t let you touch the dog, or even get near it, ” she says. “It’s working, and you can distract it. Owneds taking it on for the hell of it, they’ll be like, ‘Sure, you can pet them! ‘” Even with emotional support puppies, you can’t do that. “I have to act like that now.”

One flight of Ashley’s had three support puppies on it. There was her, a woman in a wheelchair, and then the third woman, who had a Chihuahua. “She was letting kids pet the dog, ” says Ashley, “and I had told those same kids before that my puppy was working. The girl in the wheelchair overheard me and said, as we were both looking at her, ‘Don’t those people induce you sick? ‘ She had no idea.”

Evan V. Symon is a journalist, interview finder guy, and novelist for the Personal Experiences section at Cracked . Instead of getting your floofer a service vest they’re not qualified to wear and doing the general public a bamboozle, how about a heckin’ cool but also warm coat instead ? If you loved this article and want more content like this, supporting our site with a visit to our Contribution Page. Please and expressed appreciation for .

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