MONTGOMERY, Ala. (State Capital Bureau) — Starting in a couple of weeks, it will be a crime to disguise a pet as a service animal in Alabama.
The law is meant to go after people who falsely claim their pet is a service animal. According to the law, misrepresenting a pet as such will be a Class C misdemeanor, which can result in a $100 fine and 100 hours of community service.
“Until the ADA makes some changes, we will never be able to truly combat this problem,” said Frances McGowin, executive director of Service Dogs Alabama.
Unlike emotional support animals, service animals are used to assist people with different issues, such as limited sight, hearing or mental issues. In some cases, service animals can remind people about when to take certain medication, guide them in rooms or be with them during a crisis. There is a process to have these animals certified, which includes paperwork.
The problem McGowin is concerned most about is fake or poorly trained service dogs.
“We have no doubt that dogs help everybody because we all have pets ourselves and we know the comfort they bring,” she said.
However, enforcement of the law could be problematic for the state. On the federal level, it is not required to register an animal, leaving Alabama’s law with little power.
“It’s not the same as a service dog and it’s not the same as a trained facility dog,” McGowin said.
Alabama is now one of 25 states that have created laws on the fraudulent representation of service animals.
Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, was a co-sponsor on the bill, which also allows for dogs in public housing.
“It narrows it down to service dogs only and just to make sure that you are doing what you’re supposed to as far as service dogs and for people who really need them,” Hollis said.
The new law takes effect Sept. 1.