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With fake service dogs on the rise, Canada proposes doggie ‘driving license’

A service animal is the key to a life of functional independence for those who truly rely on them.

But for a growing number of con artists, a bogus service vest and a fake dog tag are the keys to taking their dogs into restaurants and stores where animals are otherwise banned.

A new proposal in British Columbia aims to put an end to fake service animals by creating a government-issued ID and a provincial registry, according to CBC News.

“It’ll be a bit like a service dog driving license if you like,” Bill Thornton, the CEO of BC and Alberta Guide Dogs, told the CBC.

Service dogs are highly trained and are meant to provide assistance to people with mental illness, autism and visual or hearing impairments. Increasingly, they are also used by veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the United States and Canada, though, more and more people are going online to buy vests, backpacks and ID cards with service animal” insignias on them, according to the Associated Press.

For business owners especially, separating legitimate dogs from fraudulent ones can present an unnerving challenge, advocates say.

“It is an awkward circumstance for someone to challenge someone who purports to have a disability and they’ve got a jacket on the dog,” Thornton told the CBC.  “It’s very difficult and often those folks behave very poorly when challenged.”

Under the new Canadian proposal, business owners would be able to check someone’s dog tags before allowing the animal in their establishment.

How can you tell if a service dog is fake?

According to Anything Pawsable, a Web site featuring news about working dogs: “Fake Service Dogs can often be identified by their lack of manners, obvious lack of training and ill behavior,” such as “barking, growling, stealing food from other clients, knocking people over, [or]  jumping.”

A Google Shopping search for the phrase “service dog vest” turned up numerous offerings, some for as little as $19.99, on sites such as eBay.

Canine Companions for Independence, a major U.S. training program for service dogs, launched an online initiative last year to stop service dog fraud.

The year before, a New York Post reporter toured some of the city’s finest dining establishments with a poorly behaved pooch that was outfitted in a phony vest and tag — and encountered no resistance.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s a federal crime to use a fake dog, according to the AP. About 25 percent of all states have passed laws prohibiting service animal misrepresentation, the AP notes, but “privacy protections built into the laws” make prosecuting offenders extremely unlikely. The ADA says documentation is not legally required for real service dogs.

“In the last few years, the questions and the looks I get have radically changed,” Peter Morgan, who has a spinal disorder that requires him to use a service dog, told CBS News. “Now wherever I go, I see fraudulent service dogs. I have been kicked out of businesses because employees think I’m an imposter.”

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