Amarillo, TX - Purchasing fake service dog products online is a new trend for some pet lovers, and it is causing a lot of problems for people who actually need service dog assistance.
Amarillo resident Chris Bradley doesn't go anywhere without his service dog companion, Sadie.
"I've had Sadie since March for my PTSD and traumatic brain injury," said Bradley. "She helps with anxiety, crowd control, and also kind of helps me know when my legs are about to go numb from my traumatic brain injury. Also, if I get lost, she finds the way to the wife."
For his wife, Kayla Bradley, that is a huge relief. "It alleviated a lot of my stress because I don't have to worry about going somewhere and him getting lost," said Kayla.
But having a service dog hasn't always been easy for the family when visiting public facilities. "We don't mind telling the medical conditions and exactly why we need the dog, but when people are shy to ask, or people don't know how to act around the dog, or people are fearful of the dog because she is big, it does make you feel judged," said Kayla.
Imposter service dogs don't make it any easier. "Because then the businesses that see the non-service dogs, how they're not behaving well, and haven't been through the training, it makes it harder for the ones that really do need the dog," said Chris.
That was the case when Chris tried to enter a local business with Sadie last March. "They didn't think I was blind, and they saw that I wasn't blind," said Chris. "So they didn't think I needed her."
The Internet makes it easy for just about anyone to get a hold of a service dog vest. A simple search leads to multiple results for vests on popular sites like EBay. People can even buy fake certifications that identify a dog as a service animal.
Real service dogs cost thousands of dollars to train, but people are getting fakes for just under $100.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, if a person says their pet is a service dog, businesses are supposed to allow them into their facility. It doesn't matter if the dog is a real service dog or an imposter.
Some organizations, like the Canine Companions for Independence, are petitioning the Department of Justice for tighter regulations against the selling of fake products online.