KCTV5 investigates service dog deception - KCTV5

KCTV5 investigates service dog deception

Posted: Updated:
A Missouri group is fed up with online sites selling vests similar to ones service dogs wear. (KCTV5) A Missouri group is fed up with online sites selling vests similar to ones service dogs wear. (KCTV5)
After searching online, it took KCTV5 investigative reporter Josh Marshall seven minutes and $126 to buy an emotional service dog vest for Marshall’s dog, Sidney. (KCTV5) After searching online, it took KCTV5 investigative reporter Josh Marshall seven minutes and $126 to buy an emotional service dog vest for Marshall’s dog, Sidney. (KCTV5)
FAIRWAY, KS (KCTV) -

The moment we hit "record" Army veteran Stephen White’s palms sweat and his voice nervously crackled.

White’s battle buddy, a two-year-old yellow lab named Carolina, sensed her owner’s angst, prompting the highly trained service animal to take action.

“I’m fine sweetheart,” said White. “Yes, daddy’s OK.”

A few gentle licks and a calming whimper later, White started telling his story of survival.

“I spent almost 22 years in the Army as a combat engineer,” explained White. “My last five years were here at Fort Leonard Wood.”

Like many veterans, White suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He fought in Iraq and Afghanistan as a canine combat engineer, his primary duty was using dogs to clear enemy mine fields.

The sights and sounds of war still haunt the former First Sergeant. Two years ago he wanted to die.

“I’d be dead. I probably would have committed suicide because the stuff just gets to the point where you just don’t feel like existing anymore,” said White.

Carolina is White’s first defense. Like a soldier, she’s watching his back.

“She’ll block for me, she’ll wake me up from nightmares, she reminds me to talk my medicine,” said White.

Unlike White’s Bronze Star that certifies his heroic actions in Afghanistan, there’s no universal certificate or badge validating the 500 hours of service dog training they’ve gone through together.

“It’s a huge investment but it’s worth it because without her I couldn’t go anywhere,” said White.

Under federal law, the only kinds of dogs that must be allowed in public places are service animals.

KCTV5 found some are passing off untrained canines as trained service dogs.

After searching online, it took KCTV5 investigative reporter Josh Marshall seven minutes and $126 to buy an emotional service dog vest for Marshall’s dog, Sidney.

Sidney has zero training as an emotional service animal.

Staring at the scarlet vest we purchased online, White understood how the public is being deceived.

“When Carolina first started she had a red vest that looked similar to that,” said White.

The National Service Animal Registry is one of more than one-hundred online vendors selling vests, certificates and meaningless ID badges. They require no proof that an animal has been properly trained.

NSAR’s Meet Our Staff page has an image of employees stating, ‘Our dedicated staff is committed to enhancing your life!’ The exact same stock image is used for about 100 other websites like the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Schools that Lead and the Business Council of British Columbia.

KCTV5 reached out to NSAR on three separate occasions, they refused to return our phone calls.

Susan Hinkle runs Missouri Patriot Paws, a legitimate non-profit service dog training group, which provided lessons for White’s dog, Carolina.

“I think it’s an insult to the truly disabled,” said Hinkle.

There’s no government oversight of service dog training and nobody checks to make sure all service dogs meet the American Disabilities Act standard.

“Unfortunately, by the law, they can go online and order their vest and ID,” said Hinkle. “It’s not against the law.”

KCTV5 went undercover to show you easy it is for someone to take advantage of the unregulated service dog industry.

Everywhere we went, Sidney had free reign, jumping, playing and slapping coffee shop customers with her tail.

That kind of behavior can be a setback for real service dogs and the people who rely on them.

“Stuff like that makes it harder for people like us who actually have service animals,” said White.

Legally, there are only two questions you can ask to tell the difference between a lifesaving service dog and an imposter.

First, is the service animal required because of a disability? And second, what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

The American Disabilities Act doesn’t require service animals or handlers show identification, perform service animal tasks or explain the person’s type of disability.

The American Disabilities Act published these frequently asked questions about service animals and the ADA.

Army veteran, Garfield Pellhum, and his dog, Axel, are Missouri Patriot Paws’ newest graduates.

Their certificate proves their attendance and successful training up to the American Disabilities Act Standard.

Unfortunately, phony certificates pet owners are buying online hold as much weight as Pellhum’s.

To Pellham and White, every phony service dog undermines the hard work they’ve invested to regain their freedom.

There’s no Kansas law stopping pet owners from faking a disability to get their dog’s access to places animals are usually not allowed.

In Missouri, it’s tougher. Defrauding disability to get your dog access has been illegal since 2005.

Copyright 2016 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.

Powered by Frankly
KCTV 5 News

Online Public File:
KCTV  KSMO

Powered by WorldNow CNN
All content © 2017, KCTV; Kansas City, MO. (A Meredith Corporation Station) . All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.