Are people taking advantage of support animal laws in Ohio? - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Are people taking advantage of support animal laws in Ohio?

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) -

Ten years ago you may not have seen a duck in a diaper on a plane, a turkey, or even a monkey -- but thanks to the internet and a free-for-all easy way to register your pet as an emotional support animal or ESA more people are cheating the system to bring their pets into areas they aren't allowed.

People who actually use service dogs are not happy with how easy it is to register your pet as an emotional support animal.

Part of the problem is that the laws are murky when it comes to emotional support animals and people find it hard to distinguish between an ESA and a service dog.

People who use actual service animals like Cathy Jaworksi who is blind are perplexed.

Cathy said through the years she's been seeing people travel with their pets and in stores.

Pet owners are able to register their animals online easily and quickly through websites that charge about $60 for a couple of laminated ESA ID cards.

"I'm very concerned with how offensive it is with people with a disability," said Attorney Attorney Melanie, adding morally it's not OK and legally those cards don't mean a thing. 

GiaMaria explained anybody with a certified service dogs does not need to have any proof -- they don't need a vest, they don't need a card, and they don't need to carry any paperwork.

In fact, it's illegal to ask someone what their disability is or why they have a service dog.

GiaMaria uses her dog Carly as a trained therapy dog at her office to help with clients but she is the first to say that Carly is not a service dog and that she does not have a disability.

"I love Carly. I love having her with me but it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to take her into restaurants or other places where she's not supposed to be in," GiaMaria said.

Distraction is a big concern for service dogs and Cathy is worried about how it will affect her service dog, Avenue.

"I might be pointing west but since that dog comes up to my dog and now I'm pointing east and I've lost where I'm going," Cathy said.

Cathy also said people are becoming skeptical of real service dogs. 

"I explained to so many people that he is my guide dog that he is helping me and yet I've been questioned in a lot of places and I've been told I couldn’t go into a couple of places too but I'm allowed," Cathy said talking about her service dog Avenue.

Emotional support animals are not allowed in restaurants or places like grocery stores where food is present.

Cathy said real service dogs are paying the price and people have asked her through the years why she her dog with her even after she explains Avenue is her guide dog.

Cathy talked about one instance where she was in a restaurant with her guide dog and the manager told her the dog had to go. 

Cathy said her son, who was in kindergarten at the time, said "this is my mom's eyes and she's allowed here with him."

Cathy said she feels conflicted about people taking their pets with them everywhere they go -- she said of course everyone wants their pet with them but there's something not right about an able-bodied person taking advantage of the system.

GiaMarias said she's not denying that ESA's can help and explains that a veteran who works at Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry has worked with her therapy dog Carly. 

"He does have some issues as a combat veteran with anxiety. I did talk to him about getting approval from a doctor But that would be in his home … it's not intruding on the publics space," she said. 

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