ST. PAUL – Prompted by a rise of individuals misrepresenting their pets as service animals, Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, and Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston, will introduce legislation that establishes penalties for individuals found to be guilty of this offense.
“It amazes me that we need to be here today with legislation to stop people who are taking advantage of a system intended to aid in the daily life of disabled Minnesotans that rely on the assistance of their service animals,” Eichorn said. “When people misrepresent their animals, they damage the reputation and acceptance of valid service animals and diminish people with disabilities who truly need these animals to assist them. These animals are often untrained and cannot handle challenging public spaces, which poses additional safety risks for customers and businesses.”
"People may think it is cute to pretend their pet dog is an assistance dog. They may think it is a victimless crime to impersonate a person with a disability. The reality is, however, that pretending you are disabled and pretending your dog is a service dog has far-reaching negative consequences. It is inappropriate and immoral, and we want this new law to make it illegal.” said Alan Peters of Can Do Canines, an organization dedicated to supporting individuals with service animals.
“People have taken advantage of the fact there is no simple way to verify that an animal is a legitimate service animal,” Green said. “This puts innocent people and pets in dangerous situations they didn’t anticipate, sometimes resulting in physical harm. In addition to making this a punishable offense, I hope our legislation creates some public awareness to help people understand the safety threat that is caused by misrepresenting animals.”
The legislation would make impersonating a service animal a petty misdemeanor and a $100 fine for the first offense and a misdemeanor for any subsequent offense. If enacted, Minnesota would join a list of 20 states that have passed similar laws. The bill began working its way through the committee process on Wednesday.