LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — This used to be a man’s world, but these days, Los Angeles seems to be more a man’s best friend’s world.
Dogs have been spotted everywhere these days, hanging out at the local Starbucks café, in an owner’s arms at the hot buffet at a grocery store or right at the counter of the juice and smoothie joint around the corner. But why?
Experts say there are two reasons behind this trend – first, many people are simply ignoring the rules. Second – and even worse – other people are pretending their dog is a service animal or some sort of therapy pet in order to skirt the law.
Ginny Mills of Granada Hills runs the pet therapy program at Northridge Hospital with her dog Baylee.
“I feel bad for the people that really have a legitimate service dog because the people that are just pretending to have one are kind of ruining it,” Mills said.
Pet therapy dogs are not service dogs, Mills said. Baylee, for example, has an ID at Northridge Hospital and is allowed on the hospital’s premises. Service dogs, on the other hand, have been specifically trained to help someone with a disability.
“If we are talking about restaurants, movie theaters, bowling alleys, places where we all go – service dogs are protected,” says Professor Michael Waterstone at Loyola Law School.
The law is clear when it comes to service dogs, who are not legally required to wear vests or specialized collars. But the law becomes fuzzy when you add the word “therapy.”
“That dog isn’t necessarily entitled to legal protections if they are going into a public place,” Waterstone said.
Add the “service dog” vests that anyone can buy online, and things can get hairy.
“We get calls referring to animals being in a food facility and we have to go through the various exemptions that allow service animals into a food facility,” said Angelo Bellomo with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
Letting the dogs in has become such a problem that supermarkets like Ralphs and Gelson’s post signs that clearly state their policy. Bellomo says the rules are in place for a reason – animals can be a health hazard around food.
“An individual can be prosecuted for claiming a dog is service animal when it’s not indeed a service animal,” Waterstone said.
Enforcing the law, however, is easier said than done. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, store owners can only ask two specific questions of dog owners: Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
“Ideally, we would all get to take our dog everywhere with us, but we know that wouldn’t work out, cause some dogs just don’t have the behavior for it,” Mills said.