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Louisiana lawmaker files bill to create service dog regulations

Published: Apr. 20, 2016 at 11:16 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 20, 2016 at 11:38 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Service dogs are often used to help disabled individuals or those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Like anything else, there are those looking to take advantage of the animals even if they don't need them.

Senator Jonathan Perry of Kaplan has filed a bill that aims to crack down on service dog fraud.

Joshua Mercer is an Army veteran who suffers from PTSD. He got his service dog Chloe about a year ago.

"I don't know what I'd do without her," said Mercer.

Chloe earned her service dog patch of honor by going through extensive training.

"She went through about three rounds of testing and that includes over 100 hours of public access training using various situations that I would encounter in my day-to-day life and she rocked it," he explained.

Those who take advantage of the system skip training altogether. Currently, there is no way to officially identify service dogs. Since there are no regulations for the industry, it's as easy as buying a service vest and then claiming your pet as a service dog.

"Having been in the military, it's very prideful. It's hard to admit when you have a disability or an issue and (it's) very humbling," said Mercer. "I think it's a horrible thing to take advantage of that and to pretend that you're somebody that you're not. It's sad."

If it passes, Perry's bill will require the Governor's Office of Disability Affairs to create a service dog registry.

The proposal also states service dog owners should be required to obtain a doctor's note and carry identification.

Their little helpers should be required to complete proper training and wear a specific patch to indicate that.

Also, the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs would be required to establish qualifications for dog trainers to receive licenses to provide the training.

Megan Manuel is a service dog trainer at Lake Charles Pit Bull Rescue. She said the proposed law isn't perfect but it's a step in the right direction.

"I'm in support of regulation. I think after going over what's written about the proposed law so far, it does need a little work but regulation, at this point, even just on a state level, is a must," she said.

Manuel explained the law would not only benefit individuals who need these supportive canines, but also for those who need to identify them.

"Especially lately, in the past year or so, there have been a lot of people who have said 'Oh I have a service dog' and taken the dog out in public and there's been some adverse reactions," she said. "Business owners definitely need to know for sure if a service dog is legit and with the ADA guidelines, they're very loose and broad. So it's very difficult for a business to determine whether that's a true service dog or not."

If the bill passes the House and Senate, it would go to Gov. John Bel Edwards. If he signs it, it would into effect on August 1, 2016.

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