Originally posted 10/17/2018, edited and re-published 02/17/2020.
Fake emotional support animal (ESA) and service dog certification websites are plaguing the internet. To many, this seems like a problem that doesn’t need to be solved. However, the fallout caused by fake certifications and registries can be severe.
About Fake Certifications and Registries
NSARCO, Certapet, and other websites sell fake ESA and service dog certifications as scams that profit off people with disabilities. They claim that buying their certifications and registrations provides legal public access and will get you out of paying pet rent.
The truth about ESA and service dog certification? It doesn’t exist.
The Facts About ESA and Service Dog Certification
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that “covered entities may not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal, as a condition for entry.”
In plain language: businesses cannot legally request to see a service dog’s certification or registration because none are federally recognized.
- There is no required legal documentation for service dogs. A prescription for an assistance animal from your doctor may help with reasonable accommodations in housing and the workplace.
- The only legal documentation required for ESAs is a prescription. That’s right — all you need to do is request a letter from your doctor or mental health provider.
The only documentation required for an ESA or service dog is a prescription from a medical professional. ESAs have no public access rights; the only time documentation is needed is in no-pets housing or when traveling by plane.
Service dog teams may need the same letter for housing, but don’t have to carry it in public. Plus, a letter alone does not make a dog a service dog; it must go through the required training.
Can’t I Use One Anyway?
Some service dog handlers like the ease of access that a certification or registration can give. But overall, they’re a bad idea.
- Using a certification or registry ID to gain access makes public access harder for other service dog teams.
- Using a certification to get a pet into no-pets housing is illegal. It also makes reasonable housing harder to access for people with legitimate ESAs and service dogs.
- People use ESA and service dog certifications to bring untrained pets into public. This gives business owners get false impressions of what real service dogs are like.
One lasting impression can change the way a business deals with service dog teams.
After you enter an establishment with an ID stating that your animal is a service animal, a business owner might then believe that all service dog teams need to have identification. In reality, they aren’t allowed to request any documentation. Using a fake certification gives the opposite impression and makes life harder for other service dog teams.
Unfortunately, many business owners and landlords have already been exposed to fake service dog certifications. People passing their pets off as fake assistance animals has been an issue for years. Because most business owners and landlords are under-educated on assistance animals and fear legal action, they accept fake certifications at face value.
Oftentimes these pets behave poorly in comparison to how service dogs actually behave. Their poor behavior gives a bad impression of all assistance animals and makes it difficult for service dog teams to go about their day-to-day lives.
How Can I Help?
The best way that the general public can help combat this issue is to educate.
When your friend tells you they bought a vest online so they can take their dog everywhere with them, tell them it’s illegal. If you see an emotional support animal in a public space, alert a manager and let them know they are legally allowed to ask two questions to determine whether or not it’s a service dog.
Service dog handlers do their best to educate the general public on a day-to-day basis, but constantly defending their rights can become exhausting.
Advocate for your disabled friends; defend their rights, and educate those around you. Don’t let these indiscretions slide.
Having to fight to be in public spaces is not equal accessibility for disabled people. We can do better.
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