It’s now a crime in Missouri to claim an untrained dog is a service dog

Changes to Missouri's service dog laws go into effect.

JOPLIN, Mo. – “I was pretty much a hermit. My Xbox was my connection to the outside world and that was about it,” says 19-year-old Carthage resident Caden Ogle.

Ogle has struggled with PTSD, caused by experiences in his childhood, for years. They used to cause him to be reclusive, fearing a public breakdown. But he’s doing better now, thanks to his service dog in training Thorn.

“It’s different. I feel like I can be around people without… without having a mental breakdown,” says Ogle.

Thorn is a nine-month-old Goldendoodle that’s spent most of its life training to be a service animal at On Command K-9 Academy. Owner Tim Franks has been training service animals for more than 30 years, and says that one of the fastest-growing issues that he’s seen is people misrepresenting their pets as service animals. Something that could become dangerous quickly.

“The non-service dog attacks the real service dog, and then potentially that individual could not have a real service dog anymore,” says Franks.

So Missouri lawmakers have taken a stand to try and mitigate that problem.

Senate Bill 644 went into effect today (August 28th), and makes it a misdemeanor crime to knowingly represent a dog as a service dog if they haven’t been trained. That includes creating false documents or using a harness or vest commonly used on a service dog. The first offense would be a 15-day jail sentence and/or a $700 dollar fine. Subsequent offenses would be a 6-month jail sentence and/or a $1,000 fine.

“If the law doesn’t have any bit to it, then there’s no point in passing the law,” says Senator Bill White.

White says that one of the biggest concerns they’ve seen is geared toward enforcement. White explains that if a dog is trained, then business owners should be able to ask to see their training documentation if they have suspicions. If something serious happens, such as the misrepresented dog biting someone or another dog, then local law enforcement should be involved.

“Law enforcement should be saying, okay… if they have any concerns at all it’s not a service dog, they should be asking for this documentation. And that’s where you’ve gotten in trouble,” says White.

The Governor’s counsel on disability will be making signs available to business owners, stating that service dogs are welcome — but that misrepresentation of one is a violation of Missouri law. They will also create a list of questions business owners can use to determine whether a dog is a service dog or not.

Franks says he’s happy to see the state taking a step forward, but still has some concerns when it comes to enforcing the law.

“Are we gonna be allowed to ask what their names are, their gods name, their address, where they live, how do we get ahold of you to file that complaint? Or otherwise, we’re gonna be chasing ghosts,” says Franks.

“I mean, there’s gonna be those people. But, I think it’ll be a lot better off now,” adds Ogle.

The law also adds mental health service dogs to the definition of a service dog recognized under Missouri law.