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Florida lawmakers crack down on fake emotional support animals

Posted at 1:27 AM, Mar 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-13 09:08:11-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Some Florida lawmakers are cracking down on fake emotional support animals. A new bill is being proposed to make it much tougher for people to verify their pets as emotional support animals.

Senator Manny Diaz, who sponsors the bill, said people are claiming their pet is an emotional support animal to get out of paying pet deposits or to get them into apartment buildings or condominiums that don't normally allow pets.

“It’s a big problem for realtors and property managers, because they can cause quite a bit of damage because they are not trained,” said Michael Pierce, who is legally blind and has a service dog named Addy.

He lives in Fort Myers with his wife who is also legally blind. They said emotional support animals are much different than service dogs. “A service dog goes through a long period of training and an emotional support pet has absolutely no training,” Pierce said.

Many people need emotional support animals for PTSD, mental health and other reasons.

Pierce said a lot people in Florida are actually bending the rules by using an online doctor to make their pet an emotional support animal. He said people do it to get free pet costs and to live in certain homes.
“Online, they ask you a few questions and give you a little form to send it back to them,” Pierce said.

Some websites offer the certificates for just $22.

Pierce said he hears it frequently from apartment and condominium complexes about how to verify if a certification is legitimate or not. “I am hoping there is some way they can tighten up those regulations a little bit,” Pierce said.

Politicians are pushing for Senate Bill 1128, which takes aim at certifications by requiring Floridians to be certified by a real doctor that they already see for other physical or emotional reasons. The bill also states that it’s a second-degree misdemeanor for anyone who falsifies documents for an emotional support animal.

The bill passed its first committee and it has two more before getting to the Senate floor.