Minnesota legislature outlaws misrepresentation of service animals

Service Dog

June 7, 2018

It’s now illegal in Minnesota to pass your pet off as a certified service animal. In April 2018, Governor Mark Dayton signed a bill making it a petty misdemeanor on the first offense and a misdemeanor on the second offense for anyone misrepresenting their pet as a service animal. A $100 fine will be placed on people who violate the new law, which goes into effect August 1.

Minnesota is now one of more than 20 states with similar laws. The goal of these kinds of laws is to discourage pet owners from bringing untrained animals into public spaces such as retail stores and restaurants, where their behavior can bother other people or even become dangerous.

“It’s not the dog that has the access rights, it’s the person with the disability that has the right to bring the dog,” says Laurie Carlson, community outreach coordinator at Can Do Canines. “Any dog that’s not well-behaved leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths to the detriment for people that really do need a service dog to live their life.”

Lawmakers who passed the bill say many people don’t realize the harm they can cause to people who really need service animals. Service animals are held to an extremely high training standard, all in the effort to help a person with a disability lead a more independent life.

Can Do Canines is a local organization that trains service dogs and matches them with people living with a disability. Dogs trained through Can Do Canines start as young as 7- 8 months and are placed with a client by the age of 3, on average. Service dogs are trained to reliably perform a specific skill,  and are well behaved both in the home and out in public.

Service dogs vs. therapy dogs

While service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks, they are sometimes confused with therapy dogs, who provide a different kind of comfort for people. Therapy animals aren’t held to the same training standards as service animals — though they are still well trained in basic manners and obedience, and are required to take continuing education classes. Because of the difference in training and intention of their work, therapy dogs have no special rights and must obtain permission to enter public places.

One easy way to remember the difference is that a service animal is trained to help one person, while a therapy animal can help many people, providing cheer and comfort in a variety of settings.

Animal Humane Society does not provide service animal training, but we do offer Therapy Dog Prep classes. For more information about service dogs and local resources, please call our Pet Helpline at 952-435-7738.

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