Service animal owners say people bringing pets into restaurants hurting those with legitimate needs

DENVER -- Service animal owners said more people are trying to bring their pets into restaurants, and as a result, restaurants are cracking down and even questioning people with legitimate needs.

On Thursday, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines rolled out new policies for emotional support animals.

The airline industry has been struggling to find ways to stop people from bringing their pets on planes under the guise of emotional support animals.

While emotional support animals are causing issues in the air, there has also been an increase in the number of complaints to health departments of dogs at restaurants.

The Tri-County Health Department received 35 complaints of dogs in restaurants in 2017, compared to 15 in 2016.

The Jefferson County Health Department received 10 complaints of dogs in restaurants in 2017 compared to six in 2016 and five in 2015.

Denver Environmental Health received 19 complaints of animals in restaurants in 2017.

Donnie Hogan has a medical service animal named Sonya.

He's found that as more people bring their pets into restaurants as emotional support animals, restaurants have started to question his legitimate service animal.

He said he has been kicked out of restaurants because the owners are suspicious of his animal.

He blames the problem in part on the rise in people trying to pass off their pets as service or support animals.

"I understand you’re trying to get your dog somewhere and everybody loves their pet, it’s part of their family of course," Hogan said. "What they don’t realize is that they are hurting people like me."

Denver Environment Health said when it receives a complaint, it meets with restaurant staff and educates them on determining if a dog is a service animal or needs to be removed from the restaurant and how to ask a patron to take their pet outside.