‘Fake’ service animals bill one step closer to becoming law

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

DENVER -- A bill that would make it a crime to misrepresent a pet as a service animal is one step close to becoming law in Colorado.

Lawmakers voted unanimously in favor of house bill 1308 during a judiciary committee Tuesday night. The bill now goes to the full House for a debate.

The proposed legislation is the result of a FOX31 Denver Problem Solver’s investigation that aired in February 2015. The investigation uncovered dozens of online businesses selling service animal vests and certifications, with no proof of disability required.

RELATED: Colorado company selling service animal accessories to able-bodied pet owners

Colorado company Chilhowee Psychological service in Woodland Park was found to register “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.

RELATED: Fake service dog investigation: Finding the people behind the lucrative online business

Colorado State Sen. Linda Newell was outraged by the report. She joined forces with State Rep. Daniel Kagan to sponsor house bill 1308, which makes it a misdemeanor crime to misrepresent a pet as a service animal.

Many people opposed to the bill voiced their concerns at a judiciary committee hearing Tuesday night. Some said they thought the truly disabled could end up being prosecuted.

But the bill has support of lawmakers who think it will serve as a deterrent, and food service workers who say too many pet owners are abusing the system.

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.