Colorado Criminalizes Passing Pets Off as Service Animals

By Angie Fletcher

The State of Colorado passed a new law criminalizing the intentional act of misrepresenting your pet as a service animal. Pursuant to HB16-1426, it is illegal to intentionally misrepresent your pet as an assistance, companion, or emotional support animal to avoid pet fees or have an animal in housing that otherwise does not allow animals. The new law was made effective January 1, 2017.

The Americans with Disabilities Acts of 1990 has defined a “service animal” as a dog or a miniature horse that is trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a disabled individual. The ADA does not extend emotional support, well-being, comfort or companionship as the “work” or “tasks” of a service animal.

There are disabled individuals who legitimately require the assistance of a service animal in places of public accommodation (restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores, hospitals, schools, etc.). While no vest, marking or documentation is required for an animal to qualify as a service animal, there have been a number of instances where a person will dress a dog in an official-looking vest under the guise that it is a “service animal.” The dog is then able to enter a place that it would otherwise not be allowed.

Current regulations allow businesses and other places of public accommodation to ask only two questions to the person: 

1.  Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
2.  What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

A person without a disability who brings in a dog not properly trained as a service animal puts the business and its patrons at risk from damages, health issues, injury, or other problems. Not to mention the additional hardships placed on disabled individuals to gain acceptance of their legitimate, properly trained and necessary service animal.

Passing your dog – or miniature horse off as a service animal may result in fines up to $500.

Angie Fletcher is a member of the firm's Banking and Financial Services division. She is located in the Denver office. For more information, please contact Angie or your usual Stinson Leonard Street contact.

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