Fake service dogs hurt work of real ones

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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) -- Will is a service dog. He's trained for about five years and his owner, Rachel Baird, couldn't imagine life without him.

"He's really changed my life," Baird said. "When I think back to when I didn't have him, my life was completely different."

Service dogs perform specific tasks to help people with disabilities. Baird didn't want to disclose the nature of her disability, and this is something she doesn't have to tell businesses either. Having Will has allowed her to have independence she didn't know before.

"I was at home most of the time or I had to have family go with me everywhere that I went, I couldn't be alone," Baird said. "So he's really helped me to be more independent and have more of a normal life."

Will helps Baird walk, helps her find things and even gets her help from a person if she needs it.

So it doesn't sit well with her when people fake it and say their pet is a service dog when it isn't. It doesn't sit well with Brittany Triner either, who raises service dogs and donates them to non-profit organizations.

"It's a growing problem that I have seen in the last four or five years that I have been training," Triner said.

Triner raises dogs for about a year and a half to be service dogs. A quick Google search can find websites that will sell you vests, ID cards and even offer to "register" your pet as a service animal.

Triner says what makes a service dog is its training and its ability to serve a purpose for its owner. Triner said that people lying about their dog has become a problem.

"Unfortunately, these dogs are not well trained, sometimes not even friendly. We've run into aggressive dogs in public, that can really distract from the work that a trained service dog is performing," Triner said.

Triner said that the fake dogs make people skeptical of real service dogs and their owners or trainers. Businesses are allowed to ask two questions of people who claim their dog is a service dog.

"They can ask, 'Is that a service dog?' To which they answer yes or no. If the answer is yes, they can ask what service or what task they provide, to which the trainer should be able to answer what task that dog is trained to do," Triner said.

Dogs can help visually or physically impaired people, diabetic people or a wide range of other disabilities.

There are other types of support animals. Triner said they split into three groups: service dogs, therapy dogs and emotional support animals.

Service dogs are very well trained and perform specific tasks. Therapy dogs have about a year of training and they accompany owners in places they are invited like nursing homes or schools. Emotional support animals can be prescribed by a doctor and have no rights to public access. They do have limited rights with housing and transportation.

If you see a service dog in public, don't go right up and pet it. For some owners, it is not safe to have their dog distracted. In some instances, if you ask to pet it the owner may be OK with it.

Read the original version of this article at kmvt.com.