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Fla. law restrains pet owners for fake service animals

TALLAHASSEE — People who try to sneak their pets into restaurants, airplanes and other public places by claiming they are specially trained service animals could face 60 days in jail under a Florida law taking effect on Wednesday.

Judges also under the law could make the pet owners spend a month working with organizations serving people with real disabilities.

“I love my cat,” Florida state Rep. Jimmy Smith, a Republican who sponsored the legislation, said on Tuesday. “But I’m not taking my cat everywhere I go.”

Smith said some pet owners are abusing the Americans with Disabilities Act by putting a guide dog harness or insignia on their animals and taking them into places that normally bar animals.

Pet owners can easily obtain service animal vests and registration documents, even for untrained pets, by sending as little as $75 to otherwise legitimate training facilities.

“To imply that you have a medical or service animal defrauds those who really need their service animals,” Smith said.

Smith noted that some service animals are trained to sense impending seizures or other conditions such as trauma that do not meet the eye, as well as more traditional duties helping the blind and deaf.

He said some restaurants, hotels and other public facilities turn away people with guide dogs if the patrons are not blind or have other readily apparent disabilities.

In addition to a 60-day jail term, Smith’s bill provides that offenders perform 30 hours of community service for an organization that serves people with disabilities.

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