Service animal fraud 

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People who try to pass off their pets as service animals continue to be one of the timeshare industry’s biggest headaches, said presenters at the fall 2019 Timeshare Board Members Association meeting in Las Vegas.

Lenora Wilson, assistant general manager of The Carriage House Timeshare Association, defined a service animal as “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task or tasks performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.” (Miniature horses also can be trained as service animals, but this is less common.)

Resort personnel can easily tell when a dog is not a service animal, she said, because:

  • It barks just to bark.
  • It pulls on the leash.
  • It wants to make friends.
  • It is aggressive.
  • It has its own chariot, aka a pet stroller.
  • It urinates and/or defecates inside public facilities.
  • It isn’t present at check-in and the owner/guest does not mention it.
  • When asked what service the dog provides, the owner/guest says, “You can’t ask me that.”

Actually, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, asking what service(s) an alleged service dog provides is the only legal question that resort staff are allowed to ask, said Dave Heine, president of Timeshare Escrow and Title in Orlando, FL.

Heine explained that the law does not require certification or formal evidence of training, which means a “dog parent” can train his/her own service dog. Having a service dog professionally trained typically costs $25,000 to $30,000, and requires a great deal of patience, he said.

Many states now have laws against misrepresentation of a dog as a service animal. Typically, such laws are misdemeanors with a fine, but some states can send violators to jail.

Wllson said The Carriage House charges owners and guests who try to pass off their pets as service dogs a $250 cleaning fee plus $80 for each day such an animal is on the premises—but she doesn’t always make those charges stick.

“At the end of the day,” she said, “it’s still a judgment call. With the proper knowledge, awareness, training and preparation, you can make it easy on the guest, the service animal, and most importantly your owners, managers, and employees.”