COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Service animals are a big deal - especially for veterans and people with health-related issues. Now, a bill put forth in the South Carolina Statehouse could make having an animal not qualified to be a service animal a misdemeanor offense.
The bill was pre-filed in December 2018 and introduced for its first reading on Jan. 8 for the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. In it, it would become a misdemeanor for anyone who breaches the term “service animal” in how their pet is represented.
Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services, a non-profit organization that provides trained service dogs to people with disabilities, says it’s glad lawmakers are beginning to address what it calls a growing epidemic of fake service dogs.
“There’s no nationally recognized certification for service dogs and that’s why this is a bit of a tricky pickle that we’re all in," Jennifer Rogers, the founder and executive director of PAALS, said. "So, we certify our own dogs because we’re an Assistance Dogs Internationally accredited program. There are standards that people should adhere to through ADI- and all of those are accessible online- but the bottom line is if your dog is misbehaving and interfering with other people, then the business has the right to ask them to remove the dog and offer them the right to come back for the business’ services without the dog.”
The bill defines a “'service animal' or ‘service animal-in-training’” as “an animal that is trained or that is being trained for the purposes of assisting or accommodating the sensory, mental, or physical disability of a disabled person.” The bill would make it easier for businesses and other locations that must permit service animals more accommodating to those in need.
“When people try to falsely represent a non-service animal as a service animal, business owners and other places of public accommodation become increasingly distrustful that the animals being represented to them as service animals are, in fact, service animals,” the bill says. “Misrepresentation of service animals delegitimizes the program and makes it harder for persons with disabilities to gain unquestioned acceptance of their legitimate, properly trained, and essential service animals.”
If the bill passes and becomes law, the penalties include fines of $350 to $1,000 for the first offense, no less than $600 to $1,000 for the second offense, and for the third offense, fines upward of $5,000 and no more than 10 hours of community service. Jail time and restitution could also be a result of a conviction.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Paul G. Campbell (R-District 44) and Sen. Scott Talley (R-District 12).