Florida Enacts Law Making Fake Service Animals Illegal

By Jesse Sokolow on 6 July 2015
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IMG_6962 (1)If you’ve wondered if that pig, turtle, or llama wearing a “Emotional Support Animal” vest could legally go into shops and restaurants, the state of Florida has some news for you.

A law that went into effect last week in Florida makes it illegal for people to claim that a pet is a service animal when that is not the case. HB 71 states provides “a penalty for knowing and willful misrepresentation with respect to use or training of a service animal.”

“A person who knowingly and willfully misrepresents herself or himself, through conduct or verbal or written notice as using a service animal and being qualified to use a service animal or as a trainer of a service animal commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.” The crime is punishable with up to 60 days in jail, a $500 fine, and 30 hours of community service for an organization that supports people with disabilities.

A service animal differs from an emotional support animal. Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. These range from guiding a blind person to pulling a wheelchair and responding to seizures.

In most jurisdictions, it is a violation of the city’s health code to bring an animal (including an emotional support one) into a restaurant, while service animals can go anywhere their owners can. Having an emotional support animal could simply means that the owner has registered his pet for a fee of roughly $100 to $200, although there are some legitimate cases where emotional support animals provide much-needed support.

Emotional support animals can, however, live in housing where pets are prohibited in accordance with the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Access Act allows an emotional support animal to fly at no additional charge with its owner. This leaves out hotels (unless the hotel is pet friendly, stores, taxis, trains, or parks where animals are forbidden.

The new law also provides for penalties for anyone who denies service to a disable person with a service animal. Violators would face similar penalties as those who misrepresent their pets as service animals.
(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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