(KPIX 5) – Trained service dogs are a special breed, that perform vital services to disabled individuals. But advocates for the disabled says more and more people are trying to pass off regular dogs as service dogs with the help of vests and other identifying items that are easily purchased on-line.

Amputee Michelle Lewis said her service dog, Angel, was recently distracted in a Target store, by another dog that didn’t appear to fit the definition of a trained service dog. “Every aisle that you’re going down, it’s like, ‘okay, we need to avoid this person with that animal,’” Lewis recalled.

Angie Schacht of Canine Companions for Independence, an organization that trains service dogs, said many graduates of her program have complained of similar problems. “The dogs can get distracted,” said Schacht. Many of our grads have stories about other dogs barking at their dogs,”

California law bans all animals except service dogs from places that sell food. A service dog is defined as a trained animal that provides a specific function for a disabled individual. Therapy dogs, comfort dogs and emotional anxiety dogs are not considered service dogs when it comes to facilities that sell or serve food.

Schacht said part of the problem is that it’s just too easy for pet owners to buy items that identify animals as service dogs. “You Google it and they will send (a service dog vest) right to you,” Schacht said.

Schacht’s group has started a petition to restrict the sale of service dog vests and other identifying items only to those whose animals are entitled to wear them. So far, it’s gotten more than 10,000 signatures.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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