Service Animals Bill Unanimously Passes in Florida Today; To Become Law on July 1, 2015

wners of dogs may face a penalty — which could include time in jail — for passing off their pet as a service dog in the state of Florida on or after Wednesday, July 1, 2015.

As of 10:40 this morning, Bill CS/HB 71 completed what appears to be its final hurdle towards becoming a law, as all 112 members of the Florida House of Representatives who were present unanimously voted for the bill, which is worded as follows:

Service Animals: Requires public accommodation to permit use of service animal by individual with disability; provides conditions for public accommodation to exclude or remove service animal; revises penalties for certain persons or entities who interfere with use of service animal; provides penalty for knowing & willful misrepresentation with respect to use or training of service animal.

I first reported about this bill two days ago; but I find the wording somewhat nebulous, though: how does this affect people who pass off their pets as “emotional support” animals? How does one prove “knowing & willful misrepresentation with respect to use or training of service animal”?

That is the part of the bill about which I am unsure. Service animals are clearly defined by the law and provide specific qualifications as to the veracity of circumstances to substantiate a claim by the owner of an animal to earn that designation — and only dogs and certain miniature horses may currently qualify to be official service animals — so anyone who falsely claims that their pet is a service animal is subject to having a penalty imposed on him or her; and what exactly is that penalty is still unknown at this time…

…but what about pet owners who seek to — dare I say it — steal from the airlines by declaring their pets as “emotional support” animals and not have to pay a fee to transport them? What about other situations where a pet owner attempts to convince a proprietor of a commercial establishment that Fluffy the Wonder Cat is an “emotional support” animal? Can management of that establishment exercise the right to refuse service or entry to that person?

The answer is yes, in my opinion. The person who passes off a pet as an “emotional support” animal is currently protected by the Air Carrier Access Act, which was passed by the Congress of the United States in 1986 and pertains only to commercial airlines, so — as ridiculous as this may sound — even a pig can be flown free of charge aboard an airplane as long as it accompanies its owner.

The way I interpret the bill which unanimously passed earlier today in Florida is that there is no danger of overlap with the federal laws of the United States currently in place for both owners of service animals and owners of “emotional support” animals; but the question is what effects could arise as a result? Will similar laws be passed in other states in the United States?

More importantly, could it form the foundation of a basis for eventually challenging the Air Carrier Access Act as it is currently worded and result in a change in that act where people whose pets cannot qualify as service animals still be legitimately designated as emotional support animals — but without the fraud committed by pet owners such as this anonymous person, who recently confessed to doing just that?

Only time will tell — but in the meantime, what are your thoughts?

13 thoughts on “Service Animals Bill Unanimously Passes in Florida Today; To Become Law on July 1, 2015”

  1. JRG says:

    Great. This is HIGHLY abused at airports and elsewhere. People need to show some fortitude and control their lives w/o such “emotional” animals.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      If you think about it, JRG — if not for security purposes — isn’t a pet always used for emotional support for its owner?…

  2. Sally says:

    Emotional support animals only have 2 rights; passage on airplanes and housing where other pets are disallowed. I don’t think this is nearly as great a problem as fake service dogs which are permitted everywhere. Emotional support dogs are not service dogs. They aren’t allowed in restaurants for instance and their bad behavior is giving service dogs a bad name because the public doesn’t know the difference. Establishments don’t know they have the right to refuse service based on the grounds that the dog isn’t a service animal.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with you, Sally — which is why in multiple articles, I ensure to detail the differences between service dogs and emotional support animals.

      The problem with emotional support animals is that they can provide a genuinely legitimate service to some people; but in many cases, pet owners apparently take advantage of the “blurred lines” which define emotional support animals and use them primarily to bypass paying to transport their pets and avoid them from having to be shipped in the cargo hold.

  3. RGW says:

    The issue is one of proof- how do you prove to someone that an animal is/is not a trained service animal. This get’s very slippery, very quickly.

    Require a specific ID for the person? Then you’re placing impediments/limits on those that need a service animal, to “prove” they are disabled, and this still in no manner proves the animal is a trained service animal.

    “No, it’s alright, I live with the condition 24/7, but I should be required to prove to the officious little worm running the front desk at Olive Garden that I’m legitimately limited, because my condition doesn’t provide him the props & visual clues he requires, to make that assumption, so I’m clearly faking, as far as he’s concerned.”

    It’s difficult, clearly. There are the people, as in any situation, that exploit a loophole, and trash the place, so to speak, but the majority, I feel, tend to keep a low profile, keep their animals controlled, and want to remain off the radar, as they know they’re over the line.

    I’ve a friend, who has the “Service Animal” emblazoned vests & harnesses for his dogs, and is very conscientious about their behavior, and being well read on the laws & particulars regarding such, but over the years his justification/rationale has expanded to fill in for the fact that he does not have a legitimate need for a service animal. What was first explored as a way to exploit a loophole, and get what he wanted, is now more “legitimate”, and perhaps he even feels entitled to it.

    It is frustrating, and at times, insulting, to watch. I realize the systems that dictate our every waking moment, and beyond, offer few embellishments, few true benefits to people, and the powers that be are ever trying to eliminate more, so I cannot fault his initial exploration, etc., in fact, quite the opposite, though the novelty has long since worn off.

    R~

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      It is indeed sad that there are people who cannot resist exploiting loopholes for something with an explicit intended purpose, RGW — which winds up ruining something which is useful for people with legitimate purposes and reasons.

      Thank you for sharing.

  4. Allen says:

    I use a small service dog (Chihuahua mix) for medical alert reasons. She is great being a smaller size. It is not the size of a dog that makes them a service dog. It is the service they provide to the handler. Benefits of a small service dog are they don’t eat as much as large dogs, the size of the poop you have to pick up isn’t as much, grooming is cheaper and easier, they don’t take up a lot of space under restaurant tables, or on side walks. I do not look disabled in any form to the general public. I am not required to carry any paperwork. However, I do carry a copy of of doctors note, her current shot records, her CGC, and her PAT certificate. Service dogs are not required to wear any Identification however, she does wear a vest. I have only once been harassed for proof which I was happy to show and teach that not all dogs have to be of certain breed and not all disabilities are visible. I can see the frustrations on both sides of using a service dog and owning a business. Personally, I would love to see some single piece of documentation that is nation wide accepted. We all have to show drivers license, library cards, insurance cards, handicap parking permits, military ID, student ID, company ID and so forth. I realize there is an ADA rule the trumps all. But, as times change so does rules, laws and amendments. It could be as simple as show doctors note foe need of service dog, show dog shot record, show PAT certificate, show how service dog serves you, get service dog ID card good for one year. Next year repeat. Or set 2 year turn around.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I really do not believe that requiring a single piece of legitimate documentation — perhaps one for service dogs and another for emotional support animals, as they both serve different purposes — is asking for too much, Allen.

      My mother — may she rest in peace — did not require a service animal or an emotional support animal. She walked normally — if not a little slowly — so one would think that there was nothing wrong with her. However, she lost a lung to lung cancer and had trouble breathing at times; and the state where she lived provided one of those placards for parking in parking spots reserved for disabled people. There were times where she was too proud to use it and walked instead.

      I suppose it is quite easy for people to judge others negatively without fully knowing the circumstances behind particular situations; but other people who do what they can to cheat the system perpetuate creating more difficulty for those with legitimate reasons — and that is a shame, in my opinion.

      Thank you for posting your thoughts and experiences, Allen. What can I do to help better spread the word about you and other people who have legitimate reasons to use a service animal or emotional support animal — especially while traveling — but without giving those who intentionally cheat the system a better avenue to do so?

  5. Craig says:

    Myself and my Mother are both disabled I’m very bad with chronic pain from a back injury and then I had a Deep Vein Thrombosis with 4 blood clots and I have a filter in me now along with being diabetic high blood pressure high cholesterol no feeling in my feet but I get bad nerve pain in my feet and I recently had another blood clot in my leg from lack of activity. My mother is a cancer survivor had a foot of large intestine removed she has had two small strokes and has panic attacks since the strokes we are getting a toy fox terrier to help me with moving around and something to look forward to and my mother will benefit with the dog to help her relax and also give her something to help take care of we want to be able to take the dog his name is Cooper everywhere we go including the supermarket and restaurants we don’t travel much or fly so a plane is no issue I feel that after all our problems that if the dog helps us stay clam and makes myself get out more and lose weight I feel he is a service dog and should be allowed to be with us at all times.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Whether it is a service dog or an emotional support dog, the law was designed for people like you and your mother who legitimately can use one to help your travels be easier, Craig.

      The story you tell indicates to me that you are not trying to take advantage of the system like so many people seem to be doing lately.

      I wish all of the best for you and your mother. Safe travels to both of you.

  6. Craig Boyer says:

    Thanks Brian, I did order a vest and a ID card and certificate stating Cooper was a service according to the website it was legal to do this with out a state certification needed so long as the dog was trained by myself or someone else to perform a specific duty to help either myself or my Mother but after reading up on all the fraud and the what can happen to you I canceled my order and now I’m not sure how to legally go about using Cooper as a service dog he’s very smart he’s a toy fox terrier pure bread from a retired breeder. Is it ok to buy the ID card and Tags and Vest online like I had done or do I have to spend a ton of money having him trained by someone.

  7. Patti Menser says:

    Well I should be in bed I got to say I went online Craig to some of the places here and if you have the money thinking you should try and do this I found a couple of training places here online sent them a email to ask if they could help me register my Daisy Mae who is trained to help me when an episode like seizure will be taking place so I am trying as this one place I wrote to is not emailing me back as to why the renewal package never came to me as of yet my ID has expired in 2011 from SARA Midlotain TX I am so mad I really need this due to my new place we just moved into that I had a hard time being my dog is over there pet limit 56 pounds they only allowed 35 pounds here in this mobile home park and with those fakers out there we all need something to let the public see our dogs are needed thanks so much for allowing me to say a few things I love sharing this because without Daisy I would be a total nut case at times she has a calming affect on me allowing me to relax thanks for all the above comments too they were helpful Patti Menser :)Dog owner trainer Handler!

  8. Bernard Timmerman says:

    Absolutely no animal, dogs, etc., should be allowed in any eating establishment and this includes service animals. People are taking advantage of a loose provision and getting their animals signed up as a service pet. What about the humans who are allergic to animals? What about the short hair animals that deposit their hairs in food, on tables, in chairs, in throats, …?

    This is an idiotic rule, keep your animals at home. A service animal, except for the blind, is an excuse and nothing else.

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