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HELENA — Montana lawmakers are considering cracking down on fake service animals with a measure that would allow fines to be imposed against people who misrepresent pets.

A state House panel heard a bill Monday that would define service animals as dogs or miniature horses trained to aid a disabled person, the Great Falls Tribune reported.

The measure sponsored by Republican state Rep. Denley Loge would make it a misdemeanor offense if someone is found guilty of misrepresenting a pet as a service animal.

"There is a problem here in Montana and this is an attempt to work some of that problem out," Loge said.

The bill would allow business owners to question people who bring in service animals. It also would allow complaints of misrepresented animals to be filed with the state human rights commission.

William Austin, a veteran who uses a service dog, told lawmakers that he has seen too many cases of people "falsifying" pets as service animals. Too many of these fake service dogs do not behave while in businesses, he said.

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"There needs to be something done to stop folks," Austin said.

David Riggs, founder of the service dog organization K9 Care Montana, said he has seen an increase in fake service dogs during past three years. Pets and emotional support animals have a "place in this world," but they are not service animals, he said.

Critics said the bill goes too far and might go beyond rules already outlined in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Protections for businesses already exist, said Joel Peden, of the Montana Independent Living Project. The bill needs an amendment to hold business owners responsible if they refuse to allow in someone with an actual service animal, he said.

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