Definition of ‘service dog’ causes some confusion, tensions between owner and business

Published: Jun. 12, 2023 at 5:10 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - KCTV5 has looked into the issue after police were called to a local hotel over a service dog.

Dominick Helveston checked into the Super 8 in Lawrence late one night. He had his dog Diesel with him at check-in. The hotel is listed as “pet-friendly.” Diesel is a two-year-old pit bull mix rescued from the side of the road. He was wearing his Service Dog vest.

“He’s absolutely the best dog I think I’ve ever had,” Helveston said of Diesel. The two are pretty much inseparable.

Everything was fine until the morning when Helveston took Diesel with him to the breakfast room at the hotel.

“They told me he couldn’t be in there and I was like, ‘No, you don’t understand. He’s a service dog,’” said Helveston. “And he said, ‘No. He can’t be here because the manager is allergic to dogs.’”

Things escalated, and police were called, but no arrests were made. Helveston agreed to leave.

He thought that was the end of it, but the hotel added an extra $100 fee. The receipt reads, “Keeping deposit. Bringing dog into breakfast area.”

Diesel has an ID badge and Helveston considers him a true service dog with rights. Helveston said he got Diesel’s credentials through the government online.

“I just applied for it, sent all of his credentials,” said Helveston. “It came in the mail.”

There is no national registry for service dogs, and most states don’t have one either — including Kansas and Missouri.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service dog is trained to perform tasks for someone with a disability. A comfort or emotional support animal is not trained to perform specific tasks, therefore, they don’t have the same rights under the law.

Helveston told us that he has anxiety and diabetes. He said that Diesel can sense when his blood sugar is too high or too low and will bring what Helveston needs to get his blood sugar in check.

“He’s got his license,” said Helveston. “He has been certified.”

But it’s pretty easy to go online, pay a fee, and certify almost any dog. You can receive a badge and a vest. Some websites even provide a medical professional on their end to help you meet the federal requirement of having a certified condition.

“They’re making a lot of money off of gullible people who are going to try and use that in order to get their pet to be a service animal,” said Martha Gabehart with the Kansas Commission on Disability Concerns.

The number of service dogs has exploded in the U.S. over the past several years. There are an estimated 500,000 service dogs, according to

She said that service animals, the definition and their rights are hot topics right now. Dozens of states are cracking down on what is a service dog as tensions rise.

In Missouri, it’s now a Class C misdemeanor to “impersonate a person with a disability.” The law addresses false documents and outfitting dogs in vests to look like service dogs when they don’t provide a true task.

In 2019, Kansas defined service, guide and assistance dogs and made it clear. “The presence of a dog for comfort, protection or personal defense does not qualify a dog as being trained to mitigate an individual’s disability and therefore does not qualify the dog as an assistance dog covered under the provisions of this act.”

Complicating the issue is what you or your business can legally ask a person when determining the status of a service dog.

The Americans with Disabilities Act only allows two questions:

  • Is this service animal required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

People cannot ask for documentation regarding the dog, cannot ask what disability a person has and cannot ask to see the dog perform a task.

KCTV5 was unable to verify whether Diesel was trained to respond to Helveston’s blood sugar. But there is no requirement that service dogs be formally trained. They can be trained by their handlers.

We contacted Super 8 regarding the incident with Helveston. They told us that after our inquiry, they sent Helveston an apology, and refunded the $100.

For more KCTV5 Investigates reporting, click here.