You’ve heard of counterfeiting money, perhaps even counterfeiting drugs.
But Maryland lawyer Gary Norman spoke Thursday about another kind of counterfeiting – that of guide dogs and other service animals.
In the Maryland State Bar Association’s Animal Law section Thursday, a small but talkative group of less than ten discussed the issue, as part of a session on counterfeiting.
Norman has not only a professional interest in the issue, but a personal one. He is blind, and has his own guide dog partner, Pilot.
A major issue for the legitimacy of guide dogs, he said, is the sale of guide dog vests online. Even if a website asks if the purchaser has a legitimate guide dog, that method is not lie-proof.
“They ask you two questions… but they phrase the questions so weirdly that almost anyone can say yes to them, and say great, send us fifty bucks and we’ll send you a vest,” said Heidi Meinzer, chair of the animal law section.
This counterfeiting “is a significant problem, unfortunately,” said Norman. “Really you can go online and get any kind of identification or vest and say ‘my poodle, or my schnauzer is a service animal.’”
And that’s bad for those who truly need a service animal, he explained. If dogs labeled falsely as service animals and behave badly, it could damage the reputation of actual service animals, and lead to unfair treatment of the people that need them.
Kirsten Koepsel, who also spoke at the session about a variety of other counterfeiting issues, said the Internet has made it easy to fake any product and sell it to the masses.
“When you have people that are getting these vests, they’re able to order it… All of a sudden, it’s degrading the whole issue,” she said.