Service animals have become an integral part of many people's lives. They provide invaluable assistance to individuals with disabilities, by performing tasks, that alleviate the symptoms of these disabilities.
While service animals are highly trained and play an important role in their owners' lives, there are individuals who try to abuse service dog regulations by faking the need for a service animal. This has become a significant problem, as the number of people pretending to need a service animal has drastically increased. By faking the need for a service dog, these people are trying to ensure that their pet dogs will have access to public places or to the passenger cabin of an aircraft.
In this article, we will discuss the issue of faking a medical letter (doctor’s note) to obtain a service animal and the impact this act has on the individuals who actually need these animals.
What Is a Doctor’s Note for a Service Animal?
We will clarify first what exactly a medical letter/doctor’s note is. This is a letter issued by a licensed health professional (LHP), as proof of an individual’s need for a service animal. This type of letter must be written on a letterhead, and it must include official information about the health practitioner, including their name, license number, phone, and signature.
A doctor’s note is rather a statement, that an LHP is familiar with the person’s diagnosis and that the use of a service dog is recommended as a part of the medical treatment.
Medical letters do not include private information about the disability of the person, who is being recommended a service dog.
When Do You Need a Doctor’s Note for a Service Animal?
Let’s start with the clarification, that only individuals who have been diagnosed with a disability, that substantially limits one or more major life activities qualify for a service animal. Considering that definition, a person must have gone through a consultation with a licensed doctor to be eligible for a service animal.
According to US laws, service dog handlers can not be required to provide documentation for their service dogs. Is it that simple?
Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is very protective of handler-service dog teams and respectful of people’s right to keep private information for themselves only, individuals have been trying to abuse the system. This is why business owners, and especially landlords, started to have (reasonable) doubt about the legitimacy of service animals, prior to giving them access to their property. In certain cases, airport agents may also require a medical letter to verify that a dog is a service animal.
A medical letter comes here in handy! As mentioned above, it is not supposed to reveal the nature of a person’s disability, but only prove that that person is actually in need of a service animal.
Other Types of Doctor’s Notes
Besides medical letters as proof of an individual’s need for a service dog, there are other types of doctor’s notes. We will list some of these below:
These are notes issued by a doctor, confirming that a person is unable to work or attend school due to illness. Sick notes can be used to request sick leave from your employer or excuse absence from school. Regulations in regard to paid sick leave vary on a local level, so you should keep that in mind.
These are documents issued by a doctor, which provide information about a person’s health condition or treatment. They can be used to support claims for medical benefits, insurance, or disability benefits.
These are letters from a doctor that refer an individual to a specialist or another healthcare provider for further evaluation or treatment.
Medical clearance letters
These letters confirm that a person is medically fit to participate in a certain activity or event, such as sports, travel, surgery, or going back to work.
Mental health letters
These letters are issued by mental health professionals and provide information about a person’s mental health condition or treatment. They may be used to support claims for disability benefits, accommodations, or legal proceedings.
Can You Fake a Doctor's Note?
Of course, you can! Some people do it themselves or contact a third party for assistance, including websites, that sell different types of medical letters.
In the context of service animal training, there are unfortunately many websites, that are just selling medical letters or certificates and that do not take into account whether you need a service dog or not. It is the same with service dog training-you may be able to purchase a certificate without conducting any training or having your dog trained by professionals.
What Issues Can Occur if You Fake a Doctor’s Note?
When it comes to service animals, faking a medical letter can seriously put the credibility of real service dogs at risk. This not only diminishes the importance of service dogs but also creates safety concerns.
Service animals are considered medical equipment that plays a vital role in their owners’ lives. Service animals support people with physical and/or mental disabilities. They are entitled to public access rights, based on the fact that they are properly trained, behave well around people and animals, and perform specific tasks, directly related to their owner’s disability.
By faking a doctor’s note a person may ensure that their dog will have access even to facilities that run a “no pets” policy. And here comes the risk!
Not being properly trained, these animals are likely to misbehave and cause disruption or even damage. There are many distractions in public places, which untrained dogs may not be able to deal with. There is no need to mention that under certain circumstances a pet dog may become aggressive and injure a person.
Such situations are likely to make business owners and landlords even more cautious and suspicious of service animals. This of course brings even more challenges for service dog handlers. The fear of becoming a victim of fraud, causes some employees to behave disrespectfully toward service dog teams. There are also cases, where real service dogs are denied access based on presumptions of their legitimacy and handlers are asked to show documentation, that they are not legally required to provide.
Another serious problem that this illegal deed may cause, is the possibility of a fake service dog attacking a real one. Unfortunately, there are not two or three cases, where real service dogs have been attacked by other dogs presented as service animals.
If we consider the other types of medical letters, other possible issues that can occur are:
If you use a fake medical letter to participate in an activity or obtain medical clearance, you may be putting your health and safety at risk. For example, if you use a fake medical letter to participate in a physically demanding activity when you are not medically cleared, you could injure yourself or others.
If you use a fake medical letter to support a claim for medical benefits or disability benefits, you may face financial consequences if your claim is denied or if you are required to pay back benefits that you were not entitled to receive.
If you use a sick note to be absent from work, your employer will suffer financial losses.
Damage to Credibility
Faking a medical letter can damage your credibility and reputation, both personally and professionally. If you are caught, others may view you as dishonest or untrustworthy, which can harm your relationships and career.
Legal Consequences of Faking a Doctor’s Note
Faking a medical letter is illegal and can result in legal consequences, including fines and even imprisonment.
Depending on the severity of the illegal act, you could face misdemeanor or felony charges, which can result in fines, community service, probation, or even imprisonment.
If you use a fake doctor's note to obtain benefits or accommodations that you are not entitled to, you could face civil liability. For example, if you use a fake doctor's note to obtain sick leave from your employer, and your employer suffers financial losses as a result, you could be held liable for damages.
If you are caught using a fake doctor's note, you may face disciplinary action from your employer or school. This could include suspension, termination, or expulsion.
If you are a licensed healthcare provider, and you are caught falsifying a medical letter, you could face disciplinary action from your professional licensing board. This could include fines, suspension or revocation of your license, or other disciplinary action.
Sometimes we may feel that the system does not work in our favor... Disappointment and lack of belief that we will get what we deserve may cause us to take some illegal actions. If you are wondering whether it is worth it or not, please keep in mind, that your actions will affect you and those around you, so proceed wisely!