A new California law, effective January 1, 2022, will make it harder for individuals and businesses to participate in emotional support dog fraud while still protecting the rights of people with legitimate service dogs.
In September, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB-468, making it the first law of its kind in the nation. The law places several new requirements on businesses that sell dogs for use as emotional support animals (ESAs), businesses that sell ESA accessories like ID cards, harnesses, or tags, and healthcare practitioners that provide ESA documentation.
The new requirements are meant to reduce the number of fraudulent and fake emotional support dogs in the state. While emotional support dogs are not service dogs and, therefore, do not have full access rights to public places, legitimate ESAs are granted a few concessions that a typical pet dog would not. Most notably, landlords and housing communities that either charge pet fees or do not allow pets at all must make reasonable accommodations to allow Emotional Support Animals without requiring a pet deposit, increased rent, or penalty. Until recently, ESAs were permitted to fly in airline cabins alongside their handlers.
Because, like service dogs, there is no national registry or certification program for ESA’s, when word got out that anyone with a letter from a therapist could claim their pet was an emotional support animal, a new industry was born.
Today, anyone, anywhere, with almost any type of domestic (and some exotics) animal can go online, answer a few multiple-choice questions, and buy an “official ESA letter” that grants them access to housing where pets aren’t permitted or allows them to live with a dog without paying a pet fee.
For Californians on January 1, 2022, this will change.
Under the new law, a business that sells or provides a dog for use as an ESA will have to provide a written notice to the buyer or recipient of the dog stating that (1) the dog does not have the special training required to qualify as a guide, signal, or service dog; (2) the dog is not entitled to the rights and privileges accorded by law to a guide, signal, or service dog; and (3) knowingly and fraudulently representing oneself to be the owner or trainer of any canine licensed as, to be qualified as, or identified as, a guide, signal, or service dog is a misdemeanor.
Second, a person or business that sells or provides a certificate, identification, tag, vest, leash, or harness specifically for an emotional support animal will be required to provide the same written notice to the buyer or recipient.
And third, the new law will prohibit healthcare practitioners from providing documentation relating to an individual’s need for an emotional support dog unless the health care practitioner (1) holds a valid, active, license to provide professional services within the scope of the license in the jurisdiction where the documentation is provided; (2) establishes a client-provider relationship with the individual for at least 30 days prior to providing the documentation, (3) completes a clinical evaluation of the individual regarding the need for an emotional support dog, and (4) provides notice to the individual that knowingly and fraudulently representing oneself to be the owner or trainer of any canine licensed as, to be qualified as, or identified as, a guide, signal, or service dog is a misdemeanor. Violating these requirements subjects the health care practitioner to discipline from the licensing board.
The impact of these new laws on the prevalence of ESA fraud remains to be seen but lawmakers, along with support from Guide Dogs for the Blind and Canine Companions for Independence, are hopeful.
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