On Your Side Investigation: Fake service dogs
Dog trainers say there’s a loophole in the law for service animals.
Jessica Young took her dog, Bella, to Canine Behavioral Modification Services in Saint Robert ran by Gene Gillette.
“In our first session he said he could make her a service dog for me. Since we are military, it would be better because then you don’t have to pay for pet deposits. She could go on the plane with us if we were ever going overseas. The whole shabang,” said Young.
Gillette gave Young a certificate. That certificate is titled “Service Dog Team” and says the dog is a “mobility assistance service animal.”
Young does not have a disability.
Ashley Reynolds went to the business address asking for comment. Gillette told Reynolds, he couldn’t get involved and he didn’t know what Reynolds was talking about.
Young decided to try a different trainer. She hired Cindy Ludwig with Canine Connection. Young showed Ludwig the service dog certificate.
“That’s not the way we do it. Disabilities are not always obvious, but I knew the dog wasn’t a service animal,” said Ludwig.
Ludwig filed a complaint with the Missouri Attorney General asking the state to investigate the certificate. An advocate with the AG’s office said she could help mediate, but couldn’t do much else. Gillette denied any wrong-doing and the case was closed.
As Reynolds was leaving the business address, Gillette said, “It was dismissed because all her story was crap. I wrote all my stuff to the Attorney General. If they want to release it to you they can.”
“Did Jessica give you something from a doctor?” Reynolds asked.
“Case closed. End of conversation.” Gillette said.
Gillette is not accused or charged with anything relating to his business.
Selling someone a fake service dog certificate is not against the law.
“I didn’t realize what I was doing with the fake service dog thing,” said Young.
The ADA states that a service dog is for someone with a disability. In order to train that dog, there are no standards that the handler must follow in the process. The dog doesn’t have to be trained by a professional.
Using a website, in fifteen minutes, Ashley Reynolds was able to get a certification for her lab, Chase, to become a service dog. Her dog has not had any training, but now has an ID card, vest and paperwork.
“It makes me angry,” said Misti Fry with Springfield Side Kick Dog Training.
Reynolds showed Fry Chase’s service dog ID.
“Apparently they don’t really pay attention and they just want you to pay them money and they’ll send you a card,” she said.
On the company’s website in the terms and conditions it reads: Registration is conducted under the honor system and we are not required to verify any disability.
Fry and Ludwig tell On Your Side before they train a service dog, they verify the owner’s disability and speak with their doctor.
“It’s too easy to fake it, but for those who really need it having the ease of access to get the equipment you need, I don’t want to make that go away. But everyone needs to act within the law and not fake it. If you’re not disabled you don’t need a service dog,” said Fry.
Reynolds never took Chase into a restaurant or on a plane. In Missouri, it’s crime to impersonate a disability for the purpose of getting accommodations like public access and waived pet deposits.
On Your Side will donate that vest to a real service dog in training.
The ADA does not require service animals to wear a vest or have an ID, but as you’ve probably noticed, many do.