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PROVO — Have you seen more service dogs in stores and restaurants lately?
If so, there's a good chance some of those dogs are actually not legal service dogs.
“I have seen employees petting dogs, gushing over them in grocery stores,” said Leilani Garfield of Provo.
Garfield said she saw them again in a store just last week, prompting her to speak out yesterday to the Utah County Board of Health.
“I have a son who has fur allergies in addition to asthma, so when he has an allergic reaction, it can cause him to have an asthma attack and he has trouble breathing.”
The Garfield family said they have no problem with legitimate service animals and insist they don't have a pet peeve with animals — no pun intended. To them, it is a health and safety concern with dogs in stores and restaurants, under the guise of being service animals.
"A service animal is defined by a federal statute, the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Aaron Kinikini, legal director at the Utah Disability Law Center.
At the Law Center, complaints have come in about people claiming their pet is a service animal when in fact it is not.
"You can order a vest online that says service animal, you can even order a fraudulent certificate that indicates your dog has been trained and there is no oversight, so people do abuse the system,” said Kinikini.
Some stores are putting notices on front doors, reminding customers that comfort animals are not legal in public places.
"The ADA specifically says an animal that provides solely emotional support is not a service animal,” Kinikini said.
The Law Center says people who have no legitimate right to a service animal harm those people who rely on a service animal.
"For every fraudulent service animal that is just a glorified pet in a vest that comes into a store or a restaurant and misbehaves, it makes it that much harder for a legitimate user of a service animal to have credibility when they bring their dog in,” said Kinikini.
The Utah County Board of Health has voted to send a reminder letter to restaurants in the county, reminding employees of the law with service animals — what is allowed and what is not and the two questions they can legally ask of someone who says they have a service dog.