Popularity of untrained services dogs growing, trainers say know your rights and the law

TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL) – A growing number of states are passing laws, making it illegal to misrepresent service dogs. Just last year the state of Virginia joined that list. Still, Tennessee people can still use untrained pets to receive privileges they are not entitled to.

Retired Vietnam War veteran Rob Watkins has had his service dog Molly for the last two years. Since then, she has been watching over him every step of the way. Watkins suffers from several medical conditions.

“One of my problems is traumatic brain injury and that has also caused a function in my mobility,” Watkins said.

Watkins also has post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD and because of her specialized training molly can help him cope. But many people use untrained pets to get special privileges for their pets.

News Channel 11’s Curtis McCloud went online to see how easy it is to find a “service dog” vest and certification. He found one for as low as $100.

“They are really hurting everything,” Katherine Rollins said.

Katherine Rollins owns all Creatures Country Club in Greeneville, Tennessee. She has been training service dogs for 20 years.

Rollins says people who purchase service dog vests and certification notices online are putting the public at risk.

“The vest thing has really gotten big and there are websites out there that you pay money and they give you a certificate that says you are certified, they haven’t certified the person in anything,” Rollins said.

Current Tennessee law says businesses can’t require people to provide proof of certification for service dogs.

We asked Rollins about the differences between service and therapy dogs. She said a therapy dog is usually used by the medical community or psychologist,  while a service dog is trained to do a specific task.

When she was 8 years old, she was diagnosed with type one diabetes. Her service dog arrow helps monitor sugar levels.

“Arrow just kind of helps me keep track of it and and helps me know when its going to go up and when its going to drop, helps me know before it happens that way i don’t have risks of going into a coma,” Faith Campbell said.

Faith’s father PJ Campbell says people who try and pass off untrained dogs make it hard for those who rely on trained service dogs.

“All I can say to people is, you are hurting those who need those dogs, for those that that do have that service dogs for a required reason, you are hurting those people,” PJ Campbell said.

Rob Watkins echos those sentiments and hopes soon the state of Tennessee will crack down on people who misrepresent service animals.

For now he says, he will rely on trainers like Katherine Rollins who say they only give. Certifications for service dogs for people with doctors notes.

A Virginia bill signed into law in 2016 makes it illegal to misrepresent service dogs anyone in violation of the law can pay a $250 fine.

Copyright WJHL 2017. All rights reserved.

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