Squatch, Magnus and little Lucia are all "service dogs in training,” preparing to become the best friends and partners for veterans who need them.
“He's my little battle buddy,” said Sgt. Matthew Miller, referring to his dog Magnus.
Miller, along with Sgt. Noel DeLisle and former Navy sailor Laurie-Lynn Wood, all served their country in war, and after returning home, they will be depending on these animals to live a normal life.
“She helps me pick up dropped items,” said Wood, of her dog Squatch.
“She will help me with sleep disorders, nightmares and night terrors,” said DeLisle, of his dog Lucia.
Now, a NewsChannel 3 Investigation is revealing these service dogs and the legitimacy of their training are under attack.
“It’s just outright enraging,” said Miller.
By conniving pet owners who...
“Just want to be able to take Fifi with them,” said Wood.
All parading their Pomeranians, Chihuahuas or Pugs around town with fake vests, fake IDs and fake papers.
So just how easy is it to fake a service dog?
I decided to find out, and luckily at home, I had two willing applicants for the job.
Sampson, who loves to play fetch, and has been known to eat anything, along with Hercules, a compulsive cuddler, who hates physical activity.
The winner-- Hercules!
He is tiny and whiny, with an attitude, but none of that mattered when I went online.
With a few clicks of a mouse, I found dozens of companies willing to give me paperwork, patches and a lifetime subscription to their service dog database.
As long as I had a credit card—there was no vetting required.
“There are too many people exploiting it, and the businesses making the fake certifications, all they are doing is seeing a loophole and making money off it,” said Miller.
Just a few days later, I had a service dog vest and a service dog ID card in hand ready to take Hercules anywhere I wanted.
We spent the morning at Peninsula Town Center, and several local businesses had no choice but to let me in, because of restrictions put in place by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“There are only two questions they can ask—‘Is this a service dog?’ and ‘What is your dog trained to do?’” said Brandy Eggemen, who runs Citizen K9 Dog Training in Chesapeake.
“They know if they have that certification, they can bring their dog everywhere they go,” said Wood.
This fake certification is not only their golden ticket for public access, NewsChannel 3 also discovered it can be a gold mine for their tax returns.
According to the IRS..."the costs of buying, training, and maintaining" a service dog are tax deductible.
That includes "food, grooming, and veterinary care."
Since there is no nationalized standard for service dog training, the IRS doesn't make a distinction between the legitimate certifications Brandy provides, and these fake ones I got online.
“You are committing fraud,” said Eggemen.
“For someone to take advantage of the system like that, it’s just wrong; I don’t know how they can sleep at night,” said Wood.
Especially when those actions directly affect these veterans, because now, their real service dogs are coming under increased scrutiny.
“She gets looked at and questioned much more,” said Wood.
“We have a right to be angry. You are taking something that can help my family,” said Miller.
So what's the solution? How can these fakers be stopped?
These vets want Congress to get involved, hopefully creating a legitimate certification process for properly trained service dogs.
So these battle buddies can continue to stand by their side.