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Posing your pooch as a service animal is now a crime

A few weeks ago, our blog discussed how 130 new laws were scheduled to take effect here in Florida on July 1, highlighting those we felt were important for people to be aware of and those that we found exceptionally entertaining.

While there has been relatively little discussion since the majority of these new laws were officially enacted, there is at least one new criminal law that has people talking.

This new criminal law expressly dictates that anyone caught using a false service dog can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine and a maximum of 60 days in jail.

The law's original sponsor, Rep. Jimmie Smith (R-Inverness), introduced the measure in response to complaints from disability rights groups that veterans with service animals trained to help them manage post-traumatic stress disorder were encountering access problems from local business owners.

While the measure has been lauded by service animal owners who have increasingly grown tired of having their actions questioned thanks to the actions of a duplicitous few, there are some questioning its enforceability.

For example, while a merchant or business owner could always inquire as to whether a service animal is required to help with a disability or the task it's been trained to perform, there is really no way to verify that the owner is telling the truth.

Experts argue that at least a partial answer may be found in the behavior of the animal itself.  

Indeed, the Americans with Disabilities Act defines service animals as those dogs trained to perform tasks or work on behalf of disabled individuals, such as dogs to guide the blind, dogs who alert and protect people who suffer seizures, and dogs who calm people suffering an episode of PTSD.

What this means is that a real service animal should have a docile and calm demeanor, and be responsive to commands given by the owner. Any dog demonstrating behavior contrary to this is in all likelihood not a service dog.

Legal professionals weighing in on the matter have indicated that the only way they could ever see anyone facing criminal charges for this offense would be if there were some sort of incident -- animal attack, property destruction, etc. -- that necessitated a police investigation.

What are your thoughts on this new criminal law relating to service dogs? Was it even necessary, or should more time and energy have instead been invested into raising public awareness about service animals in general?  

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