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Michigan bill aims to reduce fraudulent service dog use

Posted at 10:37 PM, Dec 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-19 22:38:37-05

LANSING, Mich. -- A bill in the Michigan Senate could help clear things up when it comes to pets and which ones qualify as service animals.

Senate Bill 663 is an attempt by Sen. Peter MacGregor of Rockford to set the record straight about what constitutes a service dog in Michigan.

"Under this legislation, in order to have an emotional support animal, one would need only to obtain a doctor’s note stating the animal assists in day-to-day activities that the individual would otherwise not be able to do," Sen. MacGregor said. "The goal of this legislation is to maintain the integrity of these very important service animals for those who truly need them."

It's a subject that's close to the hearts of those with Paws With a Cause. The organization, which specializes in trained service dogs, says it's a move in the right direction but could go a step further.

"Something we would like to see further clarified in the bill is the definition between emotional support animal and a service dog," said Deb Davis with Paws With a Cause.  "A service animal is a dog and only a dog that specifically trained to mitigate a person's disability. It's custom trained specifically for that individual."

Davis adds that emotional support animals provided "comfort and support" to people but do not have that training.  She says only service dogs are guaranteed access to all public places.

"There's so much ambiguity and so much confusion," Davis said. "Emotional support animals do not have public access rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act.  So while Senate Bill 663 has its strengths and great steps forward, it’s not going to supersede the ADA which is already there."

Under the bill, anyone who knowingly presents a dog as a support or service animal that really is not could be charged with a misdemeanor and serve up to 90 days in jail and get a fine of up to $500.

"Senate Bill 663 is taking a step in the right direction and Paws With a Cause is happy to work with Sen. MacGregor’s office for more clarification and to make sure the bill can do as most as it can," Davis said.

Davis says what a dog is wearing can be a way to tell if it's a genuine service dog. For example, animals from their organization hae things like jackets and backpacks that denote their dogs as certified.

Sen. MacGregor encourages anyone with questions about the bill to contact his office.