Service dogs have special legal protection. One can go anywhere its owner goes, fly free on airplanes and live in all housing, regardless of pet policy.
The special animals protect and serve people with disabilities, but fake service dogs are on the rise, and for selfish reasons.
"It's a huge issue," Smoky Mountain Service Dogs Chairman Mike Kitchens said. "People just go on the Internet, buy a vest and slap it on their dog just because they want to go to the grocery store with their dog."
Popular auction websites make it easy to buy a vest and service dog certificates. However, normal pet canines receive significantly less training and financial input than trained ones, such as Vanner, who lives at the Smoky Mountain Service Dogs facility in Lenoir City, Tennessee.
"It's disheartening to those of us that do it appropriately," Kitchens said. "A dog like Vanner is trained for two years, about 15 to 1,800 hours, and it's about a $20,000 dog."
Passing off a dog as a trained service is illegal. It can also be very expensive if the dog hurts someone because the owner is always liable.
"If your animal actually bites someone while that animal is supposed to be under your control, then you would be exposed to liability, and I think that liability would be increased if you represented your animal as a quote-on-quote service dog," Attorney T. Scott Jones said.
The law protects service dog owners from being asked too many questions. Dog trainers say the best way to stop the spread of fakes is personal honesty.