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Proposed law would make ‘fake’ service dogs a crime in Colorado

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DENVER -- A FOX31 Denver Problem Solver’s investigation is getting results at the State Capitol.

State Sen. Linda Newell and Rep. Daniel Kagan are proposing legislation that would make misrepresenting your pet as a service animal a crime in Colorado.

“We make it an offense, a criminal offense to pretend and deliberately, knowingly, fraudulently pretend that a non-service animal is a service animal,” Kagan said.

The bill was prompted by investigative reporter Heidi Hemmat’s two-part series that aired in February 2015.

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The Problem Solvers investigation uncovered dozens of business selling service animal vests and certifications for a fee, with no proof of disability required.

Hemmat also tracked down Colorado company Chilhowee Psychological service in Woodland Park that registers “emotional support animals.” ESAs are allowed to fly in the cabin of an airplane for free.

The investigation also exposed licensed Colorado counselor Stanford Scott Sutherland for sending letters deeming people he never met, “mentally disabled” in order for them to fly with their “emotional support animal” for free.

As a result of the report, Sutherland’s license is under investigation for possible ethics violations with the Colorado Department of Regulatory agencies. Newell was outrage by the report.

“Thank you so much for bringing this story forward because this has really given the genesis for this bill,” Newell said.

The bill is expected to be introduced at the Capitol on Wednesday.

People caught misrepresenting their pets as service animals could face misdemeanor charges and a $350 fine for the first offense, $600 for the second offense and $1,000 for the third offense.