Sadly, some people are asking whether “service animal” laws are being abused by those who want to scam the system.
There have been news stories, articles, opinion pieces and other editorials where people rant and complain about people they believe to be abusing the system. You hear some complain that they had to sit near a dog at a restaurant that they don’t believe is a “real” service dog, or others complain that their neighbors have a pet in a “no pet” building because they claimed the animal is an emotional support animal.
Some of the commentary has an indignant tone, and some people are downright angry.
How does this affect those who legitimately own and use a service animal to better their lives? In many ways.
For one, it can it more difficult to navigate bureaucracy of the world when your claim of a disabiltiy and your service or emotional support animal’s status is questioned. If a landlord or business owner has heard negative stories claiming that some people are abusing the system, it can cause them to look suspiciously at all claimants.
Some landlord and business owners have begun asking for proof of status, even though asking for written or other evidence is not always legal, and even though many owners of legitimate service animals and emotional support animals have not taken advantage of registering them, and thus have no such documentation to produce.
It is the suspicious attitude and illegal demands of some landlords and business owners that make services like the Service Animal Registry of California so vital to legitimate owners.
Although registration is optional, it can help shortcut the housing rental and business access issues when the owner can produce a simple document that will often satisfy the owner or landlord. Also, when using public spaces, it is often easier to hand over a document with a simple sentence stating, “This is a service animal” and letting the other party read the information, rather than having a long-winded protracted conversation (or worse yet, argument) in public, with onlookers listening in and gathering around the discussion.
So, do some people scam the system, or game the law? Sadly, the answer is “probably yes.” In life, there is always room for abuse and people can try to take advantage of many systems that we as a society put in place to protect the rights of those who need such protection. For example, many drivers falsely display disabled parking placards to take advantage of free and convenient parking. Not to mention the number of folks who lie on their tax returns, claim improper tax deductions, abuse retail store return policies, or do other bad acts.
But that percentage of abuse, which in the area of service animal laws is hopefully small, is arguably a very small price to pay when compared to the higher goal of promoting access and equality for all.
In the end, you cannot control any system to make it 100% abuse proof. So tolerating the few people who scam service animal laws is the price we gladly pay to ensure that the disabled in the great state of California have equal access under law.
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