HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Texas is tightening its leash on people trying to pass their pets off as service animals.
A new law raised the penalty to $1,000 and 30 hours of community service for a disability-related charity. A Harlingen attorney said there were problems with the new law that would make it difficult to enforce.
Ricardo Barrera, owner of the Barrera Law Firm, said, “What law enforcement may run into, and prosecutors who are trying to deal with this, is potential Fourth Amendment infringements. As well as ADA infringements. That’s the Americans With Disabilities Act.”
Barrera suggested law enforcement should focus on understanding the ADA and medical privacy laws. He said law enforcement could legally only ask someone two questions when it came to their service animal. “They can only ask you whether or not your service animal is a service animal, and what work or your task the service animal is trained to perform,” Barrera said.
He said that only applied to service animals, or animals trained to perform a specific task to assist people with disabilities. Barrera said the ADA didn’t deal with the issue of emotional support animals. He said there was some disagreement between different federal laws about that topic. “The ADA does not include an emotional animal as a service animal in the ADA. Yet other federal statutes don’t see it in the same way. They’re a little bit different. Such as the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carriers Act,” Barrera said.
Daniel Villarreal, who trains service dogs, said trying to navigate those different laws put law enforcement in a difficult position. “They can’t ask like, what is your disability? Why do you need this? You know, I don’t believe you. How do you prove that this dog is…I’m going through some anxiety and this dog calms me down?”
Villarreal said there needed to be more training in this area of the law and said he’s had clients who have been forced to leave businesses because of their animals. “Some of these municipalities are like, well, the restaurant has the right to refuse service. Well, not according to the law. So long as the dog is well groomed, and not creating a disturbance, he is allowed in.”
Villarreal said he has received certifications for this work and has undergone DPS training related to training dogs. But said, Texas doesn’t require any certification, accreditation, or licensing to train service animals. Villarreal said he would like to see the state create a standard curriculum to create some uniformity about how dogs needed to be trained.
Barrera said the lack of any standardized training program creates confusion. He said, “There is not any specificity in terms of what would be the requisite criteria for graduating a service animal under the ADA. So again, we’re going to have subjective and vague criteria in dealing with that.”