By Charlotte Huffman
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — You’ve seen service dogs in the airport and in lots of other public places.
But have you ever wondered if they’re legitimate?
Eyewitness News exposes phony service dogs that some say are putting people at risk.
Investigative Reporter Charlotte Huffman reports on just how easy it is to pass off any dog as a fake service dog.
Terry Tauber is a retired police officer who agreed to go undercover, with the family dog Ranger, to expose just how easy it is to pass off an ordinary dog as a certified service dog.
“I was astounded about the ease of doing it, the lack of being challenged,” Tauber said.
People are not required to show proof their service dog is properly certified.
Tauber, who took Ranger to a restaurant and a movie theater, bought Ranger’s phony service dog identification tags and vest online.
“I think it should be illegal to produce an I.D. tag like that,” Tauber said.
But it’s not illegal.
In fact, the rise of imposters is fueled by an exploding market online for fake credentials.
With the click of a button anyone can outfit their dogs with fake badges, sashes and vests.
They can even buy fake documents that appear to be issued by the government.
One website promises their bogus badges can help airline passengers accompanied by service dogs get through security faster.
Humane Society officials see the increasing problem first-hand.
“We’ve even gotten requests for doctors to say that dogs are service dogs,” said Anne-Marie Karash of the Humane Society.
“That’s just not something you can write a note, like you did when you were little and wanted to get out of gym.”
Becoming a real assistance dog is not easy.
John Moon is a service dog trainer with a Princeton, New Jersey organization called NEADS, the National Education for Assistance Dog Services which is a non-profit organization that was established in 1976.
“It goes on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week” said Moon of the training. “Only about 50 percent of our dogs actually make it through the program to become an assistance dog.”
Brian Sabatino’s service dog, Pressley, underwent 6 months of training.
He worries imposters who are not trained to handle crowds calmly could put him and Pressley at risk.
“They didn’t go through the training, anything could set them off,” said Sabatino.
“Without the proper credentials it is a dangerous situation for everyone that dog is not temperament tested,” said Karash.
And with more fakers out there, Benjamin Maenja fears the public will become desensitized to people like himself who really depend on their service dogs.
“It gives us a lot more hoops that we have to jump through to prove that ours are actually certified and that we actually went through the training to be able to handle them,” said Maenja.
An online petition is gathering signatures to get the Department Of Justice to crack down on fake service dogs by adopting national standards.