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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Use a fake emotional support animal, end up in jail under proposed bill

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Emotional support animals are used to help with symptoms of anxiety and PTSD, among other disorders.

Telling your landlord that the family pet is an “emotional support animal” – when it isn’t—could land you in jail. That’s if a bill introduced recently in the state Senate passes.

Emotional support animals are used to alleviate symptoms of disorders like anxiety or depression. (They are not the same as service dogs, who are trained to perform a specific task like opening a door or picking up the phone.)

Under federal housing and aviation law, emotional support animals can be considered a "reasonable accomodation" for someone with a disability. That means landlords and airlines can’t bar people with those animals or charge them extra for an apartment or a flight.

But type "emotional support animal" into Google and dozens of websites pop up that sell fake certificates, ID cards, vests, and tags.

Using fake documents to convince your landlord or airline that you have a legal right to have Fido or Fluffy with you would be considered a misdemeanor under changes proposed in the bill. Current law already prohibits people from using fake service dogs.

If you wanted to certify a pet as a legal emotional support animal, you would need documentation from a doctor who you’ve been seeing for at least six months. That physician would have to confirm that the animal was legitimately needed “to alleviate the effects of the disability that would otherwise prevent the disabled person from having the same opportunities to use a public place or residence as a non-disabled person.”  

Falsely passing your pet off as an emotional support animal would be punishable by 90 days in jail, up to a $500 fine, and 30 days of community service.