September is Service Dog Awareness Month, set aside to recognize the many benefits these highly-trained animals bring to those living with disabilities.
So it's fitting that as of Sept. 1 the state of Texas is raising awareness of those who take advantage of laws allowing service dogs to suit their own selfish wants.
Far too often folks try to pass off their pets as service dogs so they can take them into restaurants, movie theaters and other places that do not normally welcome canine companions.
And sometimes these ersatz service animals misbehave, which, according to disability advocates, casts a bad light on genuine service dogs.
A new Texas law took effect at the beginning of the month making it a misdemeanor to falsely claim a pet is a service dog. Offenders face up to a $1000 fine and 30 hours of community service.
That's a step in the right direction. Enforcement is another question, though, as it can be difficult to determine whether a dog is a genuine service animal or not. Texas law doesn't require service animals to be licensed or registered and the Americans With Disabilities Act restricts business staff from requiring any real proof a service dog is genuine.
But service dog trainers say the dog's behavior is a major indicator. If it barks, growls, wanders around or behaves in a way contrary to training, that should raise suspicions -- and perhaps prompt a call to the police.
The new law may well turn out to be largely symbolic. But it's a step in the right direction. And may make at least some people think twice before taking a pet where it is not allowed.