Missouri law would penalize pet owners for misrepresenting pets as service animals

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- "Service animals [and] dogs are needed by many people," said Wayne Lee, a disability advocate. He spoke to a Missouri House Committee Monday afternoon.

That genuine need for people to have service dogs and emotional support animals is why St. Charles Republican Representative Chrissy Sommer filed a bill that would make it a misdemeanor to lie, saying your pet is a service dog or emotional support animal if it's not.

"You cannot fake your disability," Sommer said. "You cannot claim you're disabled, and not be disabled."

Sommer says pet owners often go online and download forms to make it look like their dog is an ADA certified service dog, or their other pets are an emotional support animal.

"You would obviously know he's not when he jumps on you and tries to lick you and tries to eat your food," Sommer said of her own dog.

She says not only does this hurt those who actually need the service a dog or animal can give, it hurts landlords and those who rent out apartments or homes.

Angie Schulte with the St. Louis Apartment Association agreed.

"They bring that to our landlords and once they do that, we have to accept whatever pet that is they're claiming is their emotional support animal," Schulte said.

Sommer's bill would also allow those with psychiatric or other mental disabilities to have access to service dogs.

"We need to start taking steps to make sure that individuals who need service dogs, can do it without a stigmatism [sic]," Sommer said.

Lawmakers say there is nothing set up to enforce the law if it's passed, but they are looking into it.