Puppies as Service Dogs in Training?

Posted by Stephen Marshall on

Last week we talked about one landlord’s frightening introduction to KRS 258.500, which is Kentucky’s law allowing trainers of assistance dogs to have the dog live with them in their rental unit. For those who missed it, you can find the entire post here. The law requires that the dog be licensed and vaccinated, and that the trainer carry a trainer identification card in his or her possession. However, if the trainer complies with these requirements, the dog is allowed to live in the rental unit, regardless of whether the landlord allows pets.

Unfortunately, the full scope of the law remains unclear. For example, there are numerous agencies around the country that seek to train service dogs in order to connect them with disabled persons in need of assistance. This is a fantastic and worthy cause. However, dogs are not ready at birth for training to be service dogs. As a result, these agencies often seek individuals to serve as “foster raisers” for puppies. They typically place the puppy with a raiser when the puppy is 8-12 weeks old.  

The raiser will keep the puppy anywhere from four to 18 months. During that time, the raiser’s job is normally to housebreak the puppy, to socialize it by exposing it to a wide variety of people, sounds, animals, and environments, and to teach it basic obedience. The agencies usually take care of any costs associated with housing and raising the puppy. College students are a targeted demographic by certain agencies, and a number of our state universities have programs affiliated with these agencies. 

This phenomenon of “puppy fostering” has forced Kentucky landlords to figure out whether a puppy that is being fostered to become a service dog legally constitutes an “assistance dog” that is being “trained” under KRS 258.500. Kentucky courts have not spoken on this issue yet, so the final answer remains unclear.

The lack of clarity creates issues for both sides. A tenant whose lease does not allow pets cannot confidently become a “puppy foster” without fear of eviction, and a landlord cannot confidently evict such a tenant without fear of facing criminal penalties for doing so.

While the courts have not yet weighed in on the issue, others have. Many of the agencies that set up the fostering arrangements consider the puppies to be assistance dogs in training and instruct the raisers that the puppies are allowed live in their rental units, regardless of any no-pet policy in their lease. At least one agency goes so far as to issue “service dog” tags to the puppies. Their position is not totally without merit, as the puppies are, in a sense, being “trained”, and the goal of the training is to render them able to assist those with disabilities.

On the other side, Assistance Dogs International (ADI), which is the industry leader in establishing standards and providing accreditation for programs that train assistance dogs, does NOT consider “puppy raisers” to be trainers of assistance dogs. It holds the position that state laws that give access and housing rights to assistance dog trainers do not apply to those who are raising puppies for the purpose of entering into future training to be assistance dogs. As a result, ADI instructs puppy raisers not to identify themselves as trainers of assistance dogs, saying that to do so would be “unethical”.

Obviously, neither side has the final word on the matter, but have merely expressed conflicting opinions. However, given ADI’s status as the group that sets the standards on assistance dogs and their training, its opinion that puppy raisers are not assistance dog trainers has value and would likely be afforded significant weight on the issue by a judge, jury, or prosecuting attorney. The ADI position has been adopted by the Greater Lexington Apartment Association (which I encourage all of my central Kentucky readers to join, by the way; full disclosure: I’m a board member).

As always, this leads us to ask, what’s a landlord to do? The safest move is to meet with your local county attorney on this issue. Because the statute carries what seems to be a criminal penalty (fines, incarceration, or both), the local county attorney would be the person who could bring an action against a landlord, or any other person, who “interfered” with an assistance dog.

Although, I’ve yet to see a landlord in Kentucky prosecuted under this statute, the proliferation of assistance dogs and “foster puppies” make it likely that it will happen sooner rather than later if landlords don’t play their cards right. So don’t gamble. Contact your local county attorney and get an answer that allows you to go all in when confronted with the issue. Stay tuned to the kylandlordlaw.com blog for updates on how this issue is being treated by courts and prosecutors.

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  • Hi Rhonda. I have a few thoughts in response to your comment.

    1. Can you point me to the place in the article where I “lumped the whole service dog world . . . as a bad thing”? I’m explicitly that training puppies to become service dogs is “a fantastic and worthy cause”. Additionally, I cited Assistance Dogs International in support of my position. They are the leading advocates for service dogs in the world. So, I’m pretty sure I haven’t negatively portrayed service dogs.

    2. This article is about service dog trainers, not disabled individuals. Unfortunately, many landlords have to deal with college students who are getting puppies and claiming to be service dog trainers. That’s why the article was needed.

    3. As for positive ideas to weed out the fakes, this past spring I participated in the legislative process to get KRS 383.085 passed, which creates criminal penalties for the fakes. You can read about it here if interested: https://kylandlordlaw.com/blogs/news/kentuckys-new-assistance-animal-law.

    Thanks for reading and glad to hear that your current housing is going well.

    Stephen Marshall on
  • Its a shame that disabled veterans like me find it hard to rent places because of articles like these. Yes there is an epidemic, but not all are abuse this rule. Coming up with positive ideas to weed out the fakes would be a better article for you to write then trying to lump the whole service dog world under your article as a bad thing . I have a new puppy, my place I rent is probably the cleanest on the block.
    Find a solution for both sides. I know I have a few.

    Rhonda on
  • Thanks Dianna! I had a great time with you guys on Wednesday.

    Stephen Marshall on
  • I so appreciated you on Wednesday and the information that you gave in your class. You thought I had read your Blog…No, actually had a call for that that day….Thanks for being so timely

    Dianna Ackerman on

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