Bill criminalizing false service dogs passes Minnesota committee

From peacocks to bunny rabbits, questionable service animals have made headlines this year, inspiring action from the Minnesota legislature in an attempt to cut back on the practice.

Lawmakers in the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill Wednesday that would make it a crime to misrepresent a service dog, sending the measure to the full Senate sometime in the near future. Meanwhile, a similar bill in the House Public Safety Committee was tabled to work out legal issues.

The bills in both houses call for fines up to $100 to be imposed on anyone who gets caught with a fraudulent service dog.

Lawmakers say the legislation is about protecting the disabled community with real service animals, maintaining throughout the proceedings that misrepresenting an animal as a service animal is not a victimless crime—it negatively impacts those with a disability and a real service animal.

State and federal laws define service animals as dogs--and occasionally miniature horses--that have been specially trained to help someone with a disability. However, as time has passed, the subject has become a gray area. 

In the past, some owners have been able to sidestep the issue by calling their pets “emotional support animals," despite the fact they have no specific training. The pets are said to provide therapeutic assistance to people with anxiety, depression, mental and psychiatric disabilities. 

Without the same rigorous training that service dogs working with disabled people receive, lawmakers say, these animals' behavior can pose a danger in public settings if they were to get overly excited or aggressive.