A Colorado bill attempts to address the expanding use of “fake” service animals by individuals claiming that they are dependent on their pets for emotional support.  This use, and the growing backlash against anyone with a service animals is impacting individuals with legitimate needs for and dependence upon service animals.  Also, because the federal (and state) laws protect the privacy rights of individuals with disabilities, places of public accommodation “face a dilemma when someone enters the premises and fraudulently misrepresents his or her animal as a service animal or service animal in training.”

Similar to other states, including Florida, this proposed legislation attempts to rectify the growing representation by certain individuals that their dependence on an animal for emotional support is equivalent to the needs of a disabled individual dependent on their service animal.

The importance of the human-animal bond has been well established, including the physical and mental health benefits resulting from pet ownership.  Couldn’t anyone benefiting from pet ownership claim that their pet provides emotional support?

The Colorado general assembly concluded “that the state of Colorado needs to enact a crime of fraudulent misrepresentation of a service animal for a person with a disability.”

Specifically House Bill 16-1308:

creates a criminal offense of fraudulent misrepresentation of a service animal (offense). The offense applies to a person who intentionally fraudulently misrepresents an animal in his or her possession as a service animal for the purpose of obtaining the rights and privileges granted by law to persons with disabilities with service animals. The offense also applies to a person who knowingly and fraudulently misrepresents himself or herself as a trainer of a service animal.

The penalty for fraudulent misrepresentation of a service animal mirrors the penalty for an offender who violates the provisions of the law concerning reserved parking for persons with disabilities. A person who has been convicted of an offense may petition the court to have his or her record of first conviction sealed if he or she has not committed an offense in the 3 years prior to petitioning the court.

The Legislation, setting forth the background and necessity for the law, distinguishes an animal that provides emotional support, well-being, comfort or companionship from the work or tasks of a service animal “that [is] properly trained to assist persons with disabilities [and] play[s] a vital role in establishing independence for such persons.”

The legislators found:

No vest, other marking, or documentation is required for an animal to qualify as a service animal, nor are such vests, markings, or documentation a reliable indication of whether an animal is, by law, a service animal. People sometimes erroneously think that a therapy animal, an emotional support animal, or any animal wearing a vest or having any other type of marking is a service animal as defined by law.

There are an increasing number of occurrences where people exploit the confusion related to service animals and attempt to bring an animal into a place that it would otherwise not be allowed to enter by passing off a pet, therapy animal, or emotional support animal as a service animal or a service animal in training, either by oral misrepresentation, placing a vest or other marking on the animal, or presenting a “certificate,” despite knowing that it is not a service animal; [and that]

Some companies mislead individuals into believing that they will be entitled to the rights or privileges for individuals with disabilities with service animals if only they buy the company’s vests or obtain some type of certificate. These misrepresentations, in some cases, are unlawful deceptive trade practices and compound the confusion around service animals.