Poster Paper: Pets in Vests: Examining the Relationship between State Policies and Assistance Dog Fraud

Saturday, November 9, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Emily Zier, University of Georgia

Introduction: Over recent decades, the use of assistance dogs amongst disabled individuals has steadily grown in the United States. However, as legitimate assistance dogs have become more normalized in society, there has also been an uptick in individuals falsely claiming their pet is an assistance dog. These fraudulent assistance dogs are not professionally trained and result in a host of negative impacts on the quality of life of disabled individuals who legitimately require assistance dogs. Current federal policy enables pet owners to claim their pet is an assistance dog in order to secure public access and the rights afforded to individuals with disabilities. Some policy action at the state-level has been enacted in an effort to curb the quickly growing and concerning trend of assistance dog fraud, but state-level policies are easily undermined and difficult to enforce due in part to the lack of strong federal policy on assistance dog fraud.

Methods: To extract state-level policy data, I individually reviewed each state’s assistance dog legislation. I collected survey and demographic data for assistance dog handlers from the world’s largest assistance dog organization, Canine Companions for Independence. I use a difference-in-differences analysis to explore the relationship between state-level policy and the prevalence of fraudulent assistance dog and legitimate handler encounters, as well as the secondary impacts of encounters between fraudulent assistance dogs and legitimate handlers.

Results: Preliminary results suggest that state-level policy is not positively associated with a reduction in assistance dog fraud, likely in part due to its incongruence with federal policy. However, the prevalence of fraudulent service dog encounters varies by assistance dog type (assistance dogs for children versus adults). Additionally, females tend to be denied access to public facilities with their assistance dogs more so than males.

Discussion: State policymakers are rapidly enacting policies in an attempt to curb assistance dog fraud. However, enforcement remains a challenge, and state policies do not yet show any association with a decrease in assistance dog fraud. Federal policy changes may facilitate the effectiveness of state-level policy on assistance dog fraud if the federal government were to strengthen its stance on assistance dog fraud.