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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Valley’s Laura Renz wants cities, stores to crack down on ‘impostor’ service dogs

FILE – Carl Bessent walks with his guide dog Nerice through Coeur d'Alene on Monday, September 14, 2015. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Valley’s Laura Renz is on a quest. She wants store owners and property managers to follow the law and crack down on what she calls “impostor service dogs.”

Renz relies on her service dog because she has mobility issues after she was severely injured in a motorcycle accident. Her service dog was recently attacked when another dog jumped out of the stroller it was riding in inside the store where she was shopping.

“I don’t want to change the law, I just want business owners to follow the law we already have,” Renz said. “They are afraid of asking questions because they are afraid of getting sued. But they can ask questions.”

Renz said that service dogs “shut down” and have to be pulled from service if they are attacked too many times. Training a service dog costs thousands of dollars and there is often no way of retraining the dog.

“Having these out-of-control dogs around is dangerous to all of us,” Renz said.

At Tuesday evening’s Spokane Valley City Council meeting, Renz listened to a presentation about the issue by deputy city attorney Erik Lamb.

Lamb said state and federal laws protect service animals, and the key element to determine if a dog is a service dog is its training, which is substantially more than what ordinary dog owners put in.

Emotional support animals are often the handler’s pet, and they are not protected by the law, Lamb said.

“If the animal has received training to calm someone down during an anxiety attack, that would qualify it as a service dog,” Lamb said. “But the animal’s mere presence making someone feel calmer does not qualify it as a service animal.”

Renz brought the issue to the Spokane Valley City Council’s attention late last year, and she’s made presentations at the Spokane City Council as well.

There, she’s gained the support of Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan, who is proposing a series of community forums to talk about the service dog issue.

“I am learning all I can about the current ADA and Washington state law right now,” Fagan said. “Others have asked if Spokane needs a service dog ordinance.”

Fagan said it’s too early to tell if an ordinance will be adopted and what it potentially would look like, but he wants to “have some dialogue around it.”

Last year, Rosauers Supermarkets put up signs and pamphlets at the entrance to its stores, explaining the law and offering to help shoppers who feel like they can’t shop without their emotional support animal.

“Food safety concerns and compliance with health codes are paramount for our company,” wrote Theresa Young, Rosauers Supermarkets advertising secretary, in an email. “And we also recognize the need to allow individually trained service animals to assist those with disabilities.”

Renz would like to see more businesses follow Rosauers’ example.

After some discussion, the Spokane Valley City Council agreed that the city can help with education around the issue by putting a note in its newsletter and producing a pamphlet that may be picked up at city hall.

Renz was happy with the discussion Tuesday evening.

She’s also started the Facebook group Northwest Service Dog Alliance.

“So far, I’m just thrilled,” Renz said.