Metro Morning

Should Ontario crack down on those who use fake service dogs?

It's not common or prevalent, but it does happen: people pretending their dog is a service dog in order to take the animal into a restaurant or on a plane.

The length people will go to get their dog into a restaurant

New legislation regarding guide dogs in B.C. will take effect on Jan. 18. (CBC)

It's not common or prevalent, but it does happen: people pretending their dog is a service dog in order to take the animal into a restaurant or on a plane.

Still, it happens often enough that British Columbia is cracking down on fake service animals. New legislation in that province includes stiffer penalties for people who fraudulently claim their dog is a service animal.

That's something Alex Ivic, the director of programs with Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides, would like to see here in Ontario.

"I think it's pretty unfortunate," he told Matt Galloway on Metro Morning.

B.C. has passed legislation cracking down on the use of fake guide dogs. Just how many vest-wearing dogs are legitimate? And why is it so easy to pass off a fake? Matt Galloway spoke with Alex Ivic from Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides. 7:18

He said the real threat is not necessarily that a dog that is not a service dog will enter a restaurant. The threat is that people who own genuinely trained service dogs will be more likely to be questioned about whether their animal is necessary. "It makes it much more difficult for the legitimate [service dogs and owners] out there."

Ivic said it would be "wonderful" if legislation like B.C.'s could come to Ontario.

Part of the complication is that these dogs help people with a variety of disabilities — such as blindness and deafness, as well as mobility issues — and each are covered by different legislation.

Not to mention there is a real distinction between service and support dogs: A service dog performs very specific tasks for person with a disability. Those tasks are needed to increase safety, access to the community or assist in daily life. A support or therapy dog is for companionship or an emotional need.

But while there are already a number of specific rules around these dogs, the owners of non-service dogs who are faking their way into a cafe or movie theatre continue unabated.

"People will either attempt to get something from a doctor or some sort of certification, usually off the internet somewhere, and they get some sort of harness or vest for their dog to indicate it's a working dog of some sort," said Ivic, describing how a dog owner might go about faking it.

That's not to say someone with a doctor's note has necessarily been paired with a fake service dog; under Ontario law, anyone who needs a service dog must carry a doctor's note at all times.

Service dogs in Ontario do not require any sort of special accreditation.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story indicated legitimate service dogs in Ontario cannot be accredited unless a recognized school does the training. In fact, no accreditation is required.
    Apr 19, 2016 7:52 PM ET

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