Disability fraud is such a problem, Florida passed a new law

dog-blogStarting one week from today, Floridians who misrepresent themselves in order to use a service dog could face criminal charges. Newly created F.S. 413.08(9) was passed in response to a growing number of fake service dogs in Florida, and starting on July 1, 2015, a person “who knowingly and willfully misrepresents herself or himself, through conduct or verbal or written notice, as using a service animal and being qualified to use a service animal or as a trainer of a service animal commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.”

Violators must perform 30 hours of community service for an organization that serves individuals with disabilities, or for another entity or organization chosen by the sentencing court. Community service must be completed within six months of sentencing.

I know any regulatory line can look arbitrary, and some people may think this new law in Florida is too harsh. But just think about it. Faking a disability to bring a dog to a place of business really can cause harm to people with disabilities. We understand that people want to bring their beloved dogs with them everywhere they go, just like people with disabilities who use service dogs do. The difference here is that those of us who have disabilities and use service dogs need to have them along to do tasks we are incapable of doing ourselves.

Service dogs are highly trained to learn to complete these tasks without drawing attention to themselves or their human companions — my Seeing Eye dog Whitney had two years of training before being placed with me. It’s not hard to tie a vest on a dog, and it’s pretty easy to get fake certification for a dog as well, but it’s not easy to live with a significant disability.

Faking that you have a disability is an insult to everyone who really needs a service dog, as well as to the airlines, hotels, restaurants and stores who try to do what’s right — the new Florida law also allows businesses to remove a service animal that isn’t under the handler’s control, isn’t housebroken or is a serious threat to others.

I applaud this new law — let’s hope it helps deter people from scamming the service dog system.

Help advocate for laws that protect people with disabilities at easterseals.com/advocacy, and also learn more about legislative landmarks here.


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