Experts Explain Where Service Dogs And Other Support Animals Are Allowed To Go, And How Some Pet Owners Try To Cheat System

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Whether it’s on a plane or in a grocery store, it seems like everywhere you go, you see more people with service dogs or what are called “emotional support animals.”

But what exactly are the rules behind them?

There are “No Pets” signs plastered all over Harry Makris’ Gowanus cafe, a rule he and many New York establishments strictly enforce unless it’s a service dog.

“My take on it: If it’s necessary and 100 percent legit, then why not?” Makris said.

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File of a service dog (Credit: CBS2)

But if you try and lie about it, you’ll get kicked out.

“They need to go right outside with their dogs,” Makris said.

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Nicole Sorchinski and service dog “Nala.” (Photo: Nicole Sorchinski)

According to state laws, pets like therapy dogs and emotional support animals are not allowed in public spaces, unless the space says otherwise. However, Renee Payne, the director of training for the Good Dog Foundation, said it could sometimes be hard to enforce.

“You can’t ask me what my disability is. That’s against the law. The only thing you can ask is what is he trained to do,” Payne said.

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The dog trainer said there are three ways to certify an animal.

A service dog helps a person with a disability, like blindness, and is welcome in all public places. A therapy dog is trained to provide affection and comfort to people in places like hospitals and an emotional support animal helps a person with a mental health or emotional condition.

“Emotional support animals cannot be kicked out of housing and they can’t be kicked off of an airplane,” Payne said.

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Payne said sometimes people take advantage out of ignorance. Recently, a woman was kicked off a plane for bringing on what she called an “emotional support squirrel,” which went against the airline’s strict no-rodent rule. Then there are people who buy fake emotional support tags for their dogs.

“If someone is going to fake it, that’s rude. That’s inconceivable,” dog owner Joseph Bar added.

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Mindy Jacobsen, the president of the local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, said when people do this it gives less credibility to the animals that help them every day.

“They are, for many of us, an important tool in our tool box,” Jacobsen said.

And a tool they want to be taken seriously.

Currently, there is no way of tracking how many service dogs are out there. So lawmakers can’t see who is lying about it. For years, dog trainers have been pushing for a change.