Animal law section keeps it real

Gary Norman

Gary Norman spoke at the MSBA annual meeting about counterfeit guide dogs. Norman has his own guide dog, Pilot.

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.

One comment

  1. The sale of the vest has no bearing on the issue. By law service dogs are not required to wear vests. I have use of a service dog and the only thing limiting the sale of the vest does is make a product market for service dog groups. Not all service dogs are guide dogs and I take how this was written as against non guiding service dogs. My dog does medical alert, counter balance, cognitive awareness alerts, mobility, retrieves and other tasks. He is well trained and I adhere to a strict moral and public code when out with him in public. I fully agree the ADA regarding service dogs needs a revamp and to stop fakers causing issues with the public opinion becoming diseased against service dog thanks to poorly trained dogs and bad handler behaviors. However none of these training groups are governed and that is part of the problem. Many programs are selling dogs that cannot do the job needed and restricting vest sales to groups only is not going to cure that as well as it is against our rights. There needs to be a certification/ testing ever couple years for all handler service dog teams. Even dogs placed through programs are misbehaving because the handlers are lazy and do not adhere to keeping their dogs to proper trained status and behaviors. To keep blaming this on a vest that only labels the dog to the public eye is not a solution. By law as it is right now owner trained dogs are permissible. This does not mean all of them should be just like poorly trained program dogs. Not everyone is capable of determining the suitability of their dog or training it. I have worked dogs since I was a junior handler in my teens and did SAR with k9 partners, If I did not have the background I do I would not consider myself a proper owner trainer either without passing a certification test. I gladly offer myself and my dog for any test to qualify us as a proper service dog team and against any program trained dog any day. I also want all program trainers to have to pass a certification test to be allowed to train service dogs instead of people just claiming to be a program and selling dogs that are biting, defecating, and not doing their jobs.

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