BOSTON (CBS) — Service dogs are an amazing help to people who really need them. And one of the biggest benefits is that the dogs can go anywhere.
The owners of some untrained dogs are now taking advantage of the system so they too can bring their dogs wherever they like.
Rhody is a black lab currently being trained to be Benjamin Maenza’s assistance dog. It’s help he needs after losing both of his legs in an explosion. “It’s very comforting knowing that I have a dog like Rhody that’s got my back, and I’ve got his back.”
John Moon is the program director at NEADS, the facility in Princeton training Rhody. He says these dogs go through an intense training program. “Only about 50% of our dogs actually make it through the program to become assistance dogs.”
Not only are these dogs trained to perform all kinds of household tasks, they also have to have to be able to handle crowds calmly.
They are much different from the dogs at the local park, but an explosion of fake credentials and marked capes available on the Internet are allowing average dogs to be presented as well-trained assistance dogs.
Moon says this trend infuriates him. “I would equate it very much to the handicap parking space. People need to register to get a placard for their car, but you don’t have that type of registration for an assistance dog. There is no standard across the United States.”
To test the system, a retired police officer outfitted a dog in fake apparel. She went to the movies and a restaurant without being questioned.
Another woman had a similar experience at a Target and a grocery store.
Websites selling these capes and badges promise a dog outfitted this way will get their owner to the front of a line without question.
Moon said these imposter dogs can be a threat to anyone. “It puts other people in the store at risk, by an untrained dog that might bite or nip, or be out of control.”
Maenza worries about the public becoming desensitized to the needs of the people who really need dogs like Rhody if too many of these untrained dogs start appearing in public. “It gives us a lot more hoops that we have to jump through to prove that ours are actually certified dogs and that we actually went through the training to be able to handle them.”
An online petition is collecting signatures to get the U.S Department of Justice to adopt national standards.