[tabi] New Fl Service dog Law

  • From: "Sila Miller" <silam@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <tabi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 29 Mar 2014 21:06:45 -0400

Thank you, Toni for helping to advocate for guide dog users. While this bill 
doesn't do all the specific things one might hope, at least it gives teeth to 
people fraudulently passing pets off as "service animals". 

A bill aimed at making it easier for people with service animals to get fair 
treatment in stores and housing moved on to its last House committee today. The 
bill would require public places to accommodate disabled people who require the 
help of trained dogs or miniature horses.  
Toni King sat in her office Thursday afternoon at Lighthouse of the Big Bend, a 
nonprofit that helps people with vision loss. King's service dog slept on a big 
plaid cushion beside her. As she talked, she twisted a dog-bone-shaped charm on 
her silver necklace.

"I actually have a necklace on that has a little dog bone on it. And I got it 
for my birthday two years ago. I love dogs, I always have. But yeah, I wear 
this thinking a lot about my boy," she says.

The dog is a 2-year-old black and tan Labrador. King doesn't share his name, 
she says, because that can distract him from working. She's had people feed him 
and pet him without asking her. And when she travels the state helping other 
blind people learn independence, she says sometimes she and her dog run into 

"One convenience store owner was very, very adamant that he wanted me out of 
his establishment, so we did so, but I later pulled up the ADA law and sent 
that to the owner of that business," she says.

The federal ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, says businesses and 
housing must accommodate service animals for people with disabilities.  But 
Rep. Jimmie Smith (R-Inverness) says Florida law lags behind in spelling out 
that protection. His bill aims to fix that and also expands the definition of 
"service animal" to include dogs and horses trained to help people with mental 
illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder.

Smith says, "They get into a certain mode because of their PTSD. Well the dogs 
can actually be trained to A) Make sure that people don't crowd the individual 
by stepping up in front of somebody or B) They can start tugging on the 

Smith says the animals his bill protects must be trained to perform a specific 
function related to a person's disorder. That's why he included a provision 
allowing landlords to ask for verification of the disorder.

But, as the bill mentions, federal housing law also protects another class of 
creature called "emotional support animals," meaning they too must be allowed 
to live in pet-free buildings free of charge, even though they are not required 
to be trained and can be any type of animal. That's caused headaches for 
landlords. Community Association Leadership Lobby director Yeline Goin 
testified before the House Judiciary Committee that the emotional support 
animal industry is rife with fraud.

"There are so-called medical professionals who advertise that for $99 they will 
write you a letter for an emotional support animal," she said.

King says emotional support animals can cause problems for people like her with 
"legitimate" service animals too.

"I've had friends whose guide dogs have been attacked by little dogs on planes, 
and they had brought their dog on the plane claiming it was an emotional 
support animal," she says.

Smith's bill doesn't do anything to specifically address emotional support 
animal fraud-something Goin's group is hoping for. But the bill does make 
misrepresenting an animal as a service animal a crime punishable by up to two 
months in jail and a $500 fine. In addition, the offender would have to do 30 
hours of community service for an organization that serves people with 


service dogs

Lighthouse of the Big Bend

emotional support animals

service animals





-Janet DeLuca

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