Jacksonville Lawmaker Proposes Fake Service Animal Legislation

On Oct. 13, Jacksonville City Councilman Rory Diamond introduced a bill known as the “Fake Service Dog Law,” which entitles individuals with legitimate service animals to public accommodations. The bill also rules that misrepresenting a pet as a service animal is a second-degree misdemeanor.

“The law essentially empowers a business, or anybody who provides access to people with service dogs, to at least let someone know that it is against the law to lie about your pet and say it is a service dog,” Diamond said to the Florida Political Review.

By aiming to provide guidelines for service dogs, the law would potentially close the loopholes for individuals who wish to circumvent animal regulations.

On Nov. 2, the “Fake Service Dog Law” passed unanimously through committee at Jacksonville City Council and is on track to enforce the legitimate use of service animals.

Under this legislation, service dog owners are protected from housing discrimination. The “Fake Service Dog Law” also preserves the owner’s right to be accompanied by a service animal and entitles individuals with a disability to equal public accommodation in Jacksonville.

“Often times, veterans who get on a plane or go to a restaurant get harassed because of their legitimate service dogs. We believe that the number one reason as to why veterans are getting harassed for legitimate service dogs is because there are so many fake ones out there,” Diamond said.

Diamond, who is also the CEO of K9s for Warriors, says that his organization “tries to be an example of doing it right by having very well-trained dogs and handlers. They know what is expected of them and of their dogs.”

In addition to providing service dogs for disabled veterans, K9s for Warriors has helped craft multiple fake service dog laws across the country and has served as a resource for municipalities that want to pass fake service dog laws. The first place they helped pass a law that made it illegal to have a fake service animal was in Neptune Beach in 2015.

As of now, there are services and products available, primarily through online websites, that continue the pathway for misrepresentation of service animal status. One online page offers a package as low as $22, which includes several ESA letters with the signature of an online licensed therapist.

An extensive portion of these online services are fixed on service animals recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Several online markets, such as Amazon, sell service animal vests. These vests are intended so that “everyone will instantly recognize your trainee’s working status allowing you and your dog the space and respect you both deserve.”

According to Diamond, these online markets are “actively marketing themselves to take advantage of the laws written.” Although these products are geared for certified service dogs, there is no request for verification or documentation before making the purchase.

The law also rules that the individuals who use fraudulent information to certify a service animal must perform 30 hours of community service for an organization that serves persons with disabilities.

“The idea is that if you are knowingly lying about your dog, you are hurting people with disabilities. It makes sense to spend time with people who really need service dogs and learn more about it so that the same mistake won’t be made again,” Diamond said. “These laws really are about pushing back in the public spheres so that people know it is against the law to use fake service dogs.”

Featured Image: Service dog in training. Unmodified image by Texas A&M University Libraries used under a Creative Commons license. (https://bit.ly/3oYnVRk)

Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.