Counterfeit companion dogs a disservice to disabled - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Counterfeit companion dogs a disservice to disabled

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - For as little as $60 owners can go online and register their pet as a service animal.

It makes it difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate service dog and a fake.

Bob Dancey absolutely needs his service dog Lochlin to get around town.

“He’s a constant companion. He's with me pretty much 24 hours a day,” said Dancey, who is confined to a wheelchair.

“When he wakes up in the morning and the only thing he really wants to do is work,” said Dancey.

A surfing accident several years ago left Dancey paralyzed from the shoulders down.

An Oceanside organization, Canine Companions, helped get Dancey a well-trained, legitimate service dog.

“He picks up things for me. He can turn on lights, open and close doors and drawers,” according to Dancey, who frequently sees fake service dogs out in public.

He says it's pretty easy to tell when the animal doesn't have the correct training.

“I have been attacked in a store by one that obviously wasn't a service dog. They deemed it be an emotional support dog,” said Dancey.

CBS News 8 obtained surveillance video from inside a McDonalds restaurant in Washington showing a customer pepper spraying a so-called “service cat.”

The animal had hissed at the customer and caused a major disturbance in the restaurant after it was sprayed.

Legally speaking, there is no such thing as a service cat.

“The problem is when the general public goes online and they purchase a vest because they can't be without their dog,” said Becky Miller, an instructor with Canine Companions.

The organization screens and trains service dogs for at least two years before giving them to disabled clients in wheelchairs.

“There is no state license or federal license for a service dog. The only thing that is required is that you have a disability and the dog is trained to perform tasks related to your disability,” said Miller.

So, how does a business owner know the difference between a legitimate service dog and a fake?

“They can ask, ‘Is that a service dog?’ and ‘What task does that dog do?’”

While it may be easy to register an animal online, it is against the law to pass off a pet as a service dog in public.

Under federal law the only animals that qualify as service animals are dogs and miniature horses.

Some online sites allow other animals to be registered as emotional support animals but they may or may not have any specialized training.

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