PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A bill that would prohibit the misrepresentation of pets as service animals is now heading to the governor’s desk for consideration.
The General Assembly approved the legislation, sponsored by Ren. Roger Picard and Rep. Bernard Hawkins, which prevents pet owners from misrepresenting a pet as a service animal in order to gain access to rights or privileges reserved for disabled individuals with service animals.
“People who aren’t disabled who are trying to get the same rights for themselves that are granted to disabled people are taking unfair advantage of these exceptions, and shouldn’t be undermining their purpose,” Picard said. “This bill is meant as a deterrent to discourage people from abusing service animal laws.”
The bill specifically defines a service animal as a dog that has been or is being specifically trained to assist an individual with a disability, including guide dogs and hearing dogs.
It also makes it a civil infraction to misrepresent a pet as a service animal with violations punishable by up to 30 hours of community service for an organization that serves disabled people.
The legislation also says businesses may post a decal in a front window or door stating that service animals are welcome and that misrepresentation of a service animal is a violation of Rhode Island law.
“It is fundamentally unfair to people with actual disabilities for others to misrepresent the same conditions,” Hawkins said. “Misrepresenting a service animal defrauds actual service dog users, and businesses and agencies that work with people who employ service dogs.”