MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Service animals make a huge difference in the everyday life of people with disabilities.
But are pet parents abusing the system by buying vests and fake certifications online so they can take their animals to restaurants, on airplanes and public places where they would otherwise not be allowed?
Service dogs are trained for two years before they are approved to be the eyes and ears of their owners.
"She's made all the difference in the world to me because with my guide dog," Deborah Ryan said. "I did things that I've never done before in my entire life."
"Anywhere I go, this baby is with me," said Tom Ryan.
Tom and Deborah, both blind since birth, rely on their seeing-eye dogs to provide them with an increased quality of life they didn't enjoy before these four-legged workers had their back.
"We're a team and so we're always together," Deborah said.
That's why the Ryans are so disturbed by dogs wearing vests, being passed off as "working dogs," while being held, carried, kissed, or playing with other dogs.
"I think it's horrible, absolutely despicable," Deborah said. "They're doing things that makes the real service dog have a bad reputation."
"To me, that is a crime," Tom said, adding that he thinks there should be a penalty for people who abuse the system.
But there's a loophole in the system that prevents enforcement of any rules regarding service animals.
The American Disabilities Act was implemented to provide protection for people like Tom and Deborah, who actually need to take their dog wherever they go. But since the law only requires two things, plenty of people have figured out how to abuse the system.
When it comes to service animals, the federal government requires only two questions be answered:
Is the dog trained to perform a task for a disability? What is the task the dog has been trained to perform?
If the answer to both questions is yes, the animal cannot be denied access. The law does not require certificates, vests, or proof of training.
And that's where the abuse comes in. People are simply saying their dog performs a special task. They're making it up. And the animals can go just about anywhere and there's nothing that can be done about it.
Tom and Deborah prove that their real service dogs are priceless and needed for life-or-death situations.
"I had to wait a long time to get my dog and they have to work a long time to do the service," Deborah said. "They should be honored and respected."