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Have you ever claimed your tea cup chihuaha as a service animal when you don't actually have any disability? Well, don't. You could be thrown in jail.
Florida's law criminalizing false service animal claims took effect today. The problem with laws is that they usually don't make exceptions for lighthearted pranks, even when cute animals are involved.
Specific Requirements for Service Animals
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that service animals should be allowed into areas where pets normally aren't admitted as an accommodation for persons with disabilities.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the definition of a service animal is a dog trained to do special tasks for a person with a disability. You can't just pick any animal out of the animal shelter and call it a service animal.
Florida's Anti Fake Service Animal Law
Notwithstanding the DOJ's definition of a service animal, many people without any disability are falsely claiming that their pets are service animals. Some violators of the service animal law are even buying fake vests, harnesses, and patches to dress their pets up to fit the part.
Florida's new law seeks to put an end to this abuse. The law makes it a misdemeanor to masquerade an unqualified pet as a service animal. Violators will be sentenced to up to 60 days in jail and 30 hours of community service with an organization aiding disabled people.
Interesting side note: Florida's definition of "service animal" is broader than the federal definition and includes miniature horses as well.
While the law may seem harsh, enforcement will likely be an issue.
According to the ADA, people with service animals are not required to carry around any certification paperwork. Businesses that ask for such paperwork could be violating the ADA. Businesses are generally only allowed to ask whether a service animal is required for a disability and what special tasks the service animal can do.
With such limited questioning allowed, it will be interesting to see if any violators are actually caught and punished.