MILWAUKEE - Here's the scam: Claim your dog is a service animal, and fly the dog for free. It might seem harmless, but who are scammers really hurting by doing this?
Michael Pierce and his guide dog Addy are inseparable. Michael explains, "We're a team. We're with each other 24/7 and its a very dependent relationship."
After losing his vision, Pierce applied to get a seeing eye dog. He and Addy went through an intensive training process.
But all you have to do to make your dog 'look' like a service dog is buy a service dog vest online, and claim you have a disability. A quick search on eBay reveals thousands of results. One website claims for $20, you can get a service dog that will 'Speed up your process of getting through airport security and entering stores.'
It also states you don't have to prove you have a disability to get the I.D. Dog trainer Arlene Dickinson says she ordered a counterfeit vest online just to see how easy it was to do.
"I had it within a week. It cost me $120." She adds, "That makes me mad. That makes me angry."
Some people even brag about it on online sites like YouTube. So how are people getting away with it? You can't legally ask someone for proof of a disability, or for proof that their service dog is legitimate. In fact, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, there are only two questions you can ask.
Attorney Matthew Trail explains, "If you're a business owner or provider of some sort, you can ask, 'Is this a service dog, and what does this dog perform, what service does this dog perform for you?'"
Advocates for real service dogs argue the counterfeit ones pose a threat to public safety.
"People using fake service dogs in public, you don't know whether they're carrying diseases. They're a danger to other animals and I think the public is in danger," Dickinson warns.
Pierce adds, "What happens is, you have dogs out there doing things in public that they shouldn't be doing, misbehaving, and it gives the real service dogs, like Addy, a bad name."
This issue is so widespread that there's even an online petition right now asking the U.S. Department of Justice to crack down on service dog fraud.