Changes to the Service Dog Statute

On July 1, 2015, the Legislature amended Fl. St. Section 413.08 addressing use of service animals for persons with disabilities has been modified.

“A person with a disability” is now defined as a person who has a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

The new definition of a “physical or mental impairment” includes a person who may have a hidden physical disability, an anatomical loss, or a mental / psychological disorder recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. Now a veteran returning from service with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or a brittle type 1 diabetic is protected.

“Major life activity” is expansively amended to include functions for caring for one self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, breathing, learning and working” replacing the old definition limited too “Hard of Hearing.”

The definition of “service animal” is revised to limit the application of the law to a dog or miniature horse. The training requirement for the definition of service animal now includes “to do work” expanding the previous “performance of tasks” language. The work or tasks to be done are expanded to “including physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental” to the previous “individual with a disability” language. The “work done” or performance of tasks specifically must “be directly related to the individual’s disability”; this phrase addresses the fake service dog phenomena which is negatively impacting the public tolerance for the use of services dogs.

The work done or tasks performed list has been expanded to include allergen detection, physical support and balance, calming influence, prescription medication compliance, and other special tasks. The law specifically enumerates that an animal’s crime deterrent effect and its effect for well-being, comfort or companionship does not constitute “work or tasks” under Fl. St 413.08.

The person utilizing the service animal is responsible to have the service animal under his/her control, by leash or “other effective means” if the disability so requires. The person with a disability is liable for any damage caused to a public accommodation by the service animal. Although documentation of training is not required to be provided to the public accommodation, the accommodation may ask “is the service animal required because of a disability and what work or tasks the animal has been trained to perform.”

Finally, now added to Fl. St 413.08, is a criminal penalty for a person who “knowingly or willingly” misrepresents his/her entitlement to use of a service animal, qualifying to use a service animal, or as trainer of a service animal. The penalty is a misdemeanor of the second degree and 30 hours of community service.

Those of us who love our dog do find emotional benefit and comfort especially at times of stress in our lives. However, that relationship simply is not enough for legislative protection. It is good news that those folks who have hidden disabilities, or previously not qualified obvious disabilities can join folks with deafness or blindness in having the assistance a dog can provide.