Who does it hurt when you pass your pet off as a service dog when it' isn't? Be sure to check out our article On the Consequences of Fake and Undertrained Service Dogs
Certification does not mean an individual dog is a service dog. Neither does registration or an official looking ID. There are several businesses selling fake certification, registration and IDs over the internet. All a person need do to get these products is pay a fee. Their dog is never tested and their disability is never verified. All the product really means is that the person was willing to pay money to get it.
If you question whether ID or certification is legitimate, a quick internet search of the name of the organization will reveal whether it is an agency that actually trains service dogs, or one that merely certifies, registers, or identifies any dog sight-unseen for a fee.
How can you tell a REAL service dog if ID cards and certificates are actually meaningless? The US Department of Justice permits businesses to ask two questions:
1. Is this a service dog required because of disability?
2. What is it trained to do to mitigate the disability?
Remember that "[a]nimals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, or to promote emotional well-being are not service animals..." so a service animal must be specifically trained to DO something.
Additionally, if the animal behaves inappropriately, by disrupting business, behaving aggressively, interfering with other patrons or clients (say by sniffing them or jumping up on them), or toileting inappropriately, then it doesn't matter whether it is a service dog because you can still exclude it on the basis of "fundamental alteration" or "direct threat."
BE WARNED: when you see a fake certification, it is a STRONG indication that the dog is not a legitimate service dog. People with legitimate service dogs tend to be familiar with laws and know that certification is not required so long as the dog meets the legal definition. Those who purchase fake certification do so because they, or those they encounter, doubt their dog's real status and it is easier to purchase a fake document than to actually get their dog properly trained and evaluated by an expert.
Examples of certification/registration/ID for a fee schemes:
SARA (Service Animal Registry of America)
USARplus (United Service Animal Registry) *
Goldstar German Shepherds
SDA (Service Dogs America)
Registered Service Dog
SDCA (Service Dog Certification of America, aka Certify My Dog)
NSAR (National Service Animal Registry)
American Service Dogs
Service Dog ID
Certified Service Dog
National Association of Service Dogs
Service Dog Tags, aka emotionalsupportanimals dot org **
Free My Paws
CRTASA (Canadian Registry of Therapy Animals and Service Animals)
USSDR (United States Service Dog Registry) - registration is free, but they also sell official looking certificates and ID
Note: Not a single service listed above tests the dogs they certify, register, or ID. They do nothing to verify the dog's training or the owner's disability. All that is required is that the purchaser fill out a form with the information for the certificate and where to mail it, and include payment ranging from $35 to over $200 depending on the package being purchased.
Here are some scary quotes from some of the sites above:
"Since 2003, Goldstar has certified over 1,300 dogs of various breeds, large, medium, and small."
"SDA recognizes that every person in America may have some form of disability."
"Get an SDA kit so your dog can accompany you everywhere you need."
"This is a site designed to assist disabled people in obtaining a valid certification and ID card for their service dog so that you can take it on public transportation, into public places such as restaurants, grocery stores, etc."
"Service Dog Certification of America recognizes that every person in The United States of America may have some form of disability."
"If your dog exhibits occasional nipping, Service Dog Certification of America recommends muzzling."
"Your "canine helper" is moments away from becoming a Certified Service Dog through Service Dog Certification of America!"
"Yes, You Can Take Your Dog or Cat With You! It's no secret that many businesses simply aren't pet-friendly, even though most of the population is. A large number of our clients register their dogs (cats and other animals) as Certified Service Animals or Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) not just to accompany them into stores, restaurants, motels, or on airline flights (for no extra cost), but to successfully qualify for housing where pets aren't allowed."
At least one business, Free My Paws, has taken it to a new level. They put an expiration date on their ID cards so you have to buy new ones each year, to the tune of $19.99. "In order to remain compliant with most transport administrations requirement that documentation be current within one year, we require our clients to renew their IDs each year. Note that the same rules may also apply to any Doctor's certificates you provide airlines when travelling. If you purchased your ID as part of a kit, an ID renewal is available for $19.99 per annum (normally $39.99)." It's interesting to note that regulatory law does not in fact require ID to be less than a year old, but the doctor's letter which accompanies an emotional support animal or psychiatric service animal must be less than a year old. You can read it for yourself in the regulatory law here: http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/rules/20030509.pdf
Ask yourself why the regulation requires a current doctor's letter. It's not to prove you've paid your annual fee for a meaningless ID card, but as evidence your treating physician still feels you qualify as disabled and require either an ESA or PSD. Since they don't require any sort of documentation to purchase their ID kits (ranging up to $200), their card wouldn't meet the requirement of a current doctor's letter for those that must have documentation. Other than this specific case (a doctor's letter for an ESA or PSD), documentation is only required if the person's story is not credible. I personally fly all the time with my service dog, without issue and without showing ID, but he is a real service dog, and it does show in his behavior and demeanor.
Want to see more? A simple Google search turned up many businesses selling certification over the internet:
How's this for honesty?
* We had a run in with this organization ourselves. They lifted several pages of copyrighted material from our site and published it as their own. UPDATE: for more on this business and their practices, see USARplus claims defamation
** We had a run in with this one too. Our forum has a no advertisement policy. When the owner of this business was banned for advertising, he joined again under a false name, pretending to be someone looking for a place to get ID for his service dog. When we told him these places were scams, he suddenly started promoting his own business, pretending he had done a search and just discovered his own site! IP addresses matched, so we know it was the same person.
*** This business also posted on the forum, pretending to be a customer in order to promote their business. They go even further. They have creatively redefined "service animal" under the ADA to be "The Definition of a Service Animal under the Americans With Disabilities Act and Guidance documents from the U.S. Department of Justice is any animal that provides unconditional love, comfort, serves as a crime deterant [sic] or pehaps [sic] in some way enhances someones physical or mental health by their presence," which is in reality the exact OPPOSITE of the real definition, which says in part: "The crime deterrent effects of an animal´s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition." (Read the full definition here: http://servicedogcentral.org/content/changes )
Business owners, take heed: this problem is becoming rampant as more and more people enter the market of selling certification, registration, and IDs (including laminated cards, collars, leashes, and vests) for service dogs to anyone, for a fee, and without any oversight. The lure of selling something that costs less than a buck to make (such as a certificate or ID card) for $40 and more, is just too tempting to pass by.
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