Fake service dog fallout for those who use real service dogs

Posted at 7:26 AM, Nov 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-16 07:26:37-05

For the visually impaired and for those with other special needs, service dogs are actual life-savers.

But recently a problem has been forming. People are falsely claiming their pets are service dogs to bring them places they normally wouldn't be allowed.

Brian Hergert has been legally blind since birth.

But he doesn't let his eyesight - or lack thereof - stop him from living life.

His guide dog Sherman is officially from Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Hergert said, "I got Sherman in August of 2013 and without him, I don't even have any idea what my life would be like now. So, mainly his job is to help me get around and take the place of the cane and be an obstacle avoider instead of an obstacle locator."

Before he ever got to Hergert, Sherman had to earn his job.

"For the training, they spend about, I think it's roughly 12 months with their puppy raisers," he said.

People like John Baptista Jr. and his wife Susan have been training dogs from birth for nearly 20 years.

They say service dogs have to be a certain type and they're taught to be calm in social and busy situations.

Puppy Raiser John Baptista Jr. says, "You have the dog for 12, 14 months then they go back for formal training."

Four months of formal training with Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Its so strict John says only 42% actually make it to be a working guide like Sherman.

Hergert says, "I signaled for Sherman to go forward and cross the street and he stopped and kind of curved himself in front of me. About the time he did that, a car comes flying around the corner and I don't know how fast they were going, but if I would've stepped out, I would've been dead."

That's why Hergert gets upset when he hears about ads for businesses selling vests and certifications to anyone wanting to portray their dog as a service dog.

"I know, you can go on Amazon and you can purchase the same style harness that we use," Hergert says.

And though the state of Colorado passed a law in 2017 making it a misdemeanor for people to falsely claim their pets as service animals, they say it still goes on and it's not a harmless crime, especially when untrained animals misbehave in public places.

"Those with true working animals, service dogs that have been trained by reputable companies. There is no ifs-ands-or-buts, they are being impacted," says Baptista Jr.

Hergert recalls, "I've gotten into restaurants and been told that I have to leave because he's not a legitimate service dog. His puppy raisers have done all this training and Guide Dogs has done all this training and to have somebody come in and say hey, he's not legit, it's kinda like a slap to the face. It's like wait, what?"

Hergert wishes this is a problem he could fix.

Hergert says if an untrained fake service animal attacks his guide dog, it could cause his dog to not want to work which would be a severe impact on his life.

He says it could take years to get another guide dog.

It's not illegal for websites to sell vests or certificates for guide dogs.

Each of them have disclaimers essentially saying they're trusting customers to use them legally.