Help from a Florida Service Dog Attorney
While service dogs provide essential services to people with various types of disabilities, an increasing trend involving people claiming their emotional support animals (ESAs) as registered service animals has led to numerous problems in Florida and throughout the U.S. While service dogs qualify under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to access areas of the public that are typically off-limits to regular pets, emotional support animals are not recognized under the ADA and cannot legally be brought into public places such as stores, airplanes, churches, and other public facilities.
Emotional support animals do qualify under the Fair Housing Act to live in pet restricted housing with their owners, but only if they are truly ESAs. Florida service dog attorney Herb M. Milgrim, Esq. can help people understand the state and federal regulations and laws that apply to service animals and assist with securing accommodations for ESAs to live in condominium complexes and other types of housing that otherwise restrict pets.
What Is a Fake Service Animal?
Some people falsely claim that their pets are service animals to try to bring them into public places or avoid paying extra money to bring them on airplanes or have them in rental housing. Falsely claiming a pet is a service animal is damaging to people who need the assistance of real service dogs. It is also illegal in numerous states to falsely claim an animal that is only a pet is a service animal. In Florida, falsely claiming a pet as a service animal is a second-degree misdemeanor under § 413.08(9), Fla. Stat. (2023), and a conviction can result in a jail sentence of up to 60 days plus a $500 fine.
The ADA and Service Animals
The ADA protects people who have disabilities against discrimination and ensures they can access public places and businesses equally. Disabled people who have service dogs can bring them with them to public places under the ADA, but the definition of a service dog under this law is very specific. Dogs are the only animals that qualify under the ADA as service animals, and they must receive individual training to perform certain tasks to help a disabled person. For example, a service dog might be trained to act as a guide dog for a blind person, a hearing dog for a deaf person, a mobility dog for a person who is wheelchair-bound, or an alert dog for someone who has an intractable seizure disorder.
ESAs are not service animals and are not protected under the ADA. Unlike service dogs, ESAs do not receive specific training to perform disability related tasks for their owners. While some people obtain fake certificates for ESAs online, these are fraudulent. The only way to get a real ESA is to be prescribed the animal by a licensed psychologist, counselor, psychiatrist, or a treating healthcare provider that has personal knowledge of your disability.
Are Service Dogs Registered or Certified?
Service dogs are not registered or included in an official registry. If someone claims their service dog is registered, their claim is most likely not legitimate. Service dog registration sites online are not considered as reliable documentation for purposes of obtaining an accommodation. The owner of a service dog does not need to carry a certificate of any type, and a business can’t ask to see one. Websites that offer to register animals as service dogs or ESAs are not legitimate and are not recognized under any state or federal law. Obtaining a certificate from one of these online sites or buying a vest does not transform your pet into a protected service dog or ESA.
How Do You Get a Real ESA?
There is only one reliable way to get a real emotional support animal. To qualify, you must be prescribed an ESA by a licensed healthcare professional who is providing treatment to you. Getting a letter online from a provider who has never treated you is not considered reliable. Instead, your licensed counselor or psychologist will need to write an ESA letter that clearly states that you have been diagnosed with a disability and that your ESA is a required component of your treatment. The letter also needs to include information about the counselor’s or psychologist’s license. Many Housing Providers like Condominium Associations will question these letters and may reject letters that do not have the necessary information.
ESA registration is not real. If you order registration for your pet online and try to present it to your homeowner’s association (HOA) to claim your pet is an ESA, you will likely be denied. Doing so also places you at risk of being criminally charged under Florida law as previously noted. Even if you are prescribed an ESA, that only allows you to have your pet in housing accommodations and does not allow you to bring it into restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, or on airplanes despite claims by these online websites that you can bring your ESA anywhere. In fact, U.S. airlines no longer allow people to bring ESAs on airplanes because of the problems that have occurred.
Why Fake Service Dogs Are Harmful
Fake service dogs are harmful for all of the following reasons:
- Poorly trained animals can attack real service dogs or people
- Fake service dogs damage the public’s perception of real service dogs
- Falsely claiming an ESA is a service dog leads to confusion
- Owners allowing others to pet their fake ESAs lead to people trying to pet real service dogs, which distracts them from their duties
Real service dogs undergo rigorous training and are selected for their temperament, obedience, and intelligence. Fake service dogs do not, and ESAs also do not need training in order to provide emotional support to their owners.
Talk to a Florida Service Dog Attorney
If you have been prescribed an emotional support animal by your licensed mental health provider, you need to do things the right way to bring your animal into your home. Even if you have a real ESA, that does not give you the right to bring it into public places. Florida service dog attorney Herb M. Milgrim, Esq. can help you understand the legal requirements to have your ESA live in your home. To learn more, contact the Law Offices of Herb Milgrim, P.A. today at (954) 966-3909.