Pet or service dog? Missouri law would penalize people for misrepresentation

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JEFFERSON  CITY, MO - Missouri State Rep. Chrissy Sommer (R-St. Charles) is hoping to address what some say is a growing problem.  She wants to make sure businesses and landlords have a clearer understanding of how people use service dogs.  Sommer said groups that train service dogs to help people with disabilities have found more and more people are using those benefits without understanding who qualifies.

“We want to protect those that need these service dogs and make sure that they can have fulfilling lives,” said Sommer.

Sommer's legislation allows owners with a psychiatric disability, medical condition, or developmental disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to be eligible for service dog benefits.  Sommer said her proposed legislation would also provide businesses and landlords a clearer understanding of when service dogs are allowed.

"I have had dogs my entire life and I know what dogs can do for a person. But, there's a difference between a pet and a dog that is trained to be a service dog," said Sommer.

It is currently a misdemeanor in Missouri to misrepresent yourself as disabled in order to gain the benefits of a service dog.  Sommer's House Bill 1319 would result in similar penalties and includes enhancements for repeat offenders and the possibility of offenders being civilly liable.

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