South Florida Business Owners Complain of Imposter Service Dogs

More animals are going everywhere people go and some South Floridians are complaining they’re not just service dogs. Restaurant owners say some animal owners are abusing laws meant to protect people with disabilities.

While producing this story, the NBC 6 Investigators not only saw dogs inside restaurants, stores and bars, we even saw a monkey in one Broward restaurant.The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law in 1990, mandated that service dogs be allowed to accompany the people they help in public. But NBC investigators found this is an honor system and some people don't play by the rules.

At the Village Grille in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, dogs are welcome outside but inside the owner says—badly behaved dogs have been a problem.

“I’ve had a couple of my employees bit by a dog,” said restaurant owner Steve Deleon.

“The dog ran across the bar and like took a bite out of somebody’s food,” said the restaurant's bartender Ken Kernehan

But even if employees feel certain a dog isn’t a service animal, they let it in if the owner complains. That’s because of a federal lawsuit against the eatery.

Kenneth Frank, who filed the suit, says he is disabled by severe anxiety, and says his “service dog” was denied access to the restaurant.

Kernehan says he was serving drinks when Frank came in with his dog. He says Frank was leaning on the bar while holding the dog in his arms. "So it was over top the bar," Kernehan said as he tried to describe where the dog was positioned.

The dog Frank was holding is a four pound yorkshire terrier.

“I just told him that he’s either got to hold onto the dog or keep the dog on the floor--he can’t keep it up next to the bar or sitting on one of the chairs. The chairs for the customer," said Kernehan.
While Kernehan says no one denied Dante or Frank access, Kernehan was skeptical about the dog's service dog training.

"What I’ve been told is service dogs are usually bigger dogs: golden retrievers, German shepherds, labs, things like that-- that can actually help you do things—get things for you,” said Kernehan.

The A-D-A says to qualify as a service dog, the animal must be “trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”

Frank says he trained Dante,himself, to help him avoid anxiety attacks by alerting him to situations that can cause them.

“Dante will sometimes start out by licking me and if that doesn't work he will start nibbling," said Frank.

In a videotaped deposition, the restaurant’s attorney asked Frank to demonstrate.

I’m not going to do that,” Frank responded.

NBC6 Investigators made the same request but Frank declined. He said he cannot fake an anxiety attack.

We asked if Dante could perform a simple command, like sit or heel. Frank declined saying he didn’t think those commands were applicable. And according to federal law, Frank doesn’t have to prove anything to business owners. He just has to answer two questions: is the dog required because of a disability and what task has the dog been trained to perform?

While we can’t say for sure whether Dante performs a service-dog type task, a judge dismissed his case because Frank missed several hearings.

Army veteran Diego Hurtado, who walks with a limp as a result of injuries he got while in the military, has a service dog to help him with balance. He believes laws for service dogs should be stricter.

“The law permits them (dog owners) to lie and it takes a judge to challenge a person," said Hurtado.

He thinks the animals should be licensed to prevent dogs like this spitz, named Meeka, from masquerading as service animals.

Meeka is in photos on-line sometimes hiking with owner actor Channing Tatum,who does not appear to be sight impaired --- and sometimes wearing a service animal vest. In this tweet, Tatum says

“At L-A-X with my seeing eye dog Meeka. Cutest certified service dog ever l-o-l.”

“They’re making a mockery of the law and the laws allowing it,” said Hurtado.

In Florida, it’s a misdeameanor for a restaurant to deny the disabled access to their business with a service animal. Allowing non-service animals is a violation of health codes. As for Frank, he is appealing the court’s decision.

We wanted to ask Channing Tatum about his seeing eye dog, but he declined our request.

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