The Spokane City Council is poised to get tough on people trying to pass off their pets as service animals.
An ordinance to be considered Monday could expel such people from public places within the city.
The effort, sponsored by Councilman Mike Fagan, would align Spokane with a similar law passed in the state Legislature this year. The state’s rules allow an enforcement officer to ask if a service animal is required due to a disability and what task the animal is trained to do. If the animal’s handler refuses to answer questions or the animal is observably not a service animal, the enforcement officer can remove them from the premises and fine the handler $500.
Fagan’s proposal uses most of the same language as the state’s law requiring local public areas to make reasonable accommodations for recognized service animals such as dogs or miniature horses, and would become part of the city’s human rights code. Fagan said Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service likely would be the agency to enforce the ordinance, but said it was designed to make people aware that misrepresenting service animals is illegal and has a penalty.
“It’s going to act as a deterrent,” he said. “Now people will know that they can’t go around with fake service animals.”
Laura Renz, CEO of NorthWest Service Dog Alliance, said dogs that are not service animals in public places, such as stores or government buildings, create barriers for people who need them to live independently. She said one of her past service dogs, which cost thousands to train, was attacked by another dog and had to become a pet because it couldn’t do its job anymore.
“If I lose another dog,” she said, “I lose my mobility.”
She said service dogs are usually trained to ignore or not engage with other dogs and focus on assisting their handler. When a handler and their dog goes into a business or doctor’s office and another dog that is not trained is there, it can get between the dog and its handler or interfere when it’s trying to do its job.
Renz said she tries to train people at local businesses to understand what a service animal is: a dog or miniature horse that has been trained to perform a task that helps an individual with a disability.
“It’s like borrowing a handicap placard,” she said. “From an ethics standpoint, it’s not OK.”
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