NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. - Too many people are abusing the designation of "service pets" for their own personal gain, which is hurting those who really need service animals, one Neptune Beach city councilman said.
Councilman Rory Diamond said too many people are claiming their pets are service animals just so they can take them into restricted places like restaurants and doctor's offices.
"'It's happening so much that the rights of those who actually have disabilities are being undermined," Diamond said. "All over America, people who don't have disabilities are going online, buying service dog vests and putting them on their pet. And they don't have a disability, but they go out in public with their pet with that service dog vest on and they're essentially cheating the system."
Diamond is now taking steps to stop people from misusing the term "service pet" for their own personal gain, saying the growing trend has made it much harder for the men and women who actually need the animals.
"If we write an ordinance in Neptune Beach, which would make it a civil infraction with a fine up to $500, then we're drawing a line in the sand and saying, 'Look, you know, it's hard to enforce this. But if you do it, and we catch you, then you should have to pay something. It's just wrong," he said.
Certain laws make it tough to enforce rules for having a so-called "service pet," which is why Diamond said he hopes to set standards to cut back on the problem across the country and in Neptune Beach.
"They're gaming the system because they want to take their dog everywhere. I love my dog, but he's not a service dog, so I'm not allowed to take him on a plane or to a restaurant. It's not right and they're just trying to break the rules," Diamond said.
Diamond said the specifics of his proposal are still being ironed out to determine the best way to make it happen. He said he expects to present it to the City Council sometime next month.
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