Dog owners using fake assistant dog labels on the rise

Assistance Dogs New Zealand say a rise in "fake" labelling of assistance dogs is putting those who are genuinely in need at risk.

Liz Gasson, who has an assistance dog to help her with multiple sclerosis, told Newshub people are buying service-vests for their dogs just so they can take them into supermarkets.

If Liz Gasson collapses assistance dog Paddy will fetch the phone so she can call for help, if she has a seizure or is non-responsive Paddy will activate an alarm in the house.

For her, having an assistance dog has been life-changing.

"It means I have my independence back, it's been extraordinary and it's given me a whole new sense of confidence for having my life back."

But she's concerned about the rise of fake assistance dogs, with people buying fake vests, fake uniforms and fake licences online.

"I've had very personal questions asked of me and accusations a lot of uncertainty what it means to have an assistance dog"

Assistance Dog Instructor Mimi Hooper is currently training Renault who will be going to an autistic child.

"When he's out with the child, they will be tethered to him and if they run, he will lie down and stop them running, if they're upset, he's also trained to lie over them because the pressure calms the child down."

80 percent of Assistance Dogs New Zealand dogs go to children, typically for those with autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy or diabetes.

Or in Liz Gasson's case, with multiple sclerosis.

Assistance dogs have full public access rights, meaning if a person's allowed to go somewhere, the assistance dog can go too.

"This means, taxis, any public transport, even airplanes, we're allowed to take our dogs into motels and hotels and cafes," says Ms Hooper.

The process of fully training an assistance dog takes months and $65,000.

Registered assistance dogs should have a numbered assistance dog medallion, a civil defence medallion and an ID card of the client and the dog.

Ms Hooper says fake service dogs are dragging the reputation of assistance dogs through the mud.

"If the dog isn't well behaved, gets on the bed or starts chewing things then people think all assistance dogs are like that."

The demand for the dogs is huge and Registered Charity Assistance Dogs New Zealand receives up to 10 applications a day and says the waitlist is between four and six years for a dog.