Capitol Alert: California seeks to turn public gaze to fake seeing-eye dogs

jwhite@sacbee.comSeptember 17, 2013 

A public policy-related joke:

Two men approach a bar with their dogs and notice a "no pets allowed" sign outside. The first man, not wanting to find a new watering hole, gets an idea: he puts on some sunglasses, walks up with his golden retriever and explains it's his guide dog. They let him in.

His friend attempts the same thing with his pet chihuahua. The skeptical bouncer says, "your seeing-eye dog is a chihuahua?" To which the man replies:

"They gave me a CHIHUAHUA?"

Having trouble spotting the public policy angle? Well, as it turns out, seeing-eye dog fraud represents a real problem -- so much so that a division of the California Department of Consumer Affairs plans to launch a public information campaign to combat the issue of seeing-eye shysters.

"For guide dog users in particular they are impacted, because some people pose their pets as service animals and those dogs may end up impeding a dog going from point A to point B, or distracting or getting in the way of a guide dog that's working with their partner," said Antonette Sorrick, an executive officer at the State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Basically, dog owners want to bring their beloved pooches into normally prohibited areas -- "the benefit is you get to dress up Fifi in a vest that says service animal and you get to bring him to restaurants, hotels, airlines what have you," Sorrick explained.

The issue has become widespread enough that guide dog users have suffered detrimental effects, Sorrick said, including establishments treating helper dogs skeptically. The state board heard from a legitimate helper dog owner who had stayed at a hotel and was charged a pet fee.

"The hotel person said 'look, I'm sorry, but there's so many people who say their pets are service dogs,'" Sorrick said.

Misrepresenting a pet as a service dog is already a misdemeanor in California, but the State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind wants to add a public education campaign. The seven-member board decided on Monday to pursue the project and will begin exploring what comes next, from mulling some potential slogans to seeing if an actual policy change, perhaps enacted via the Legislature, would be necessary.

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