Bill would make lying about support animal illegal

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A new bill introduced in the state Legislature this week aims to crack down on illegitimate emotional support animals.

The proposal would make it a misdemeanor for someone to have a fake emotional support animal by imposing jail time up to 90 days, a maximum fine of $500 and community service. The bill would also require providers to treat a patient for at least six months before writing a notarized letter giving an animal the designation.

Mental health professionals say emotional support animals can make a big difference for patients.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner William Davis with Ascension Borgess said there are concerns that restriction may go too far.

“Maybe they’ve been treated somewhere else but they’re coming here for the first time and to have to wait six months to provide a note for that, that doesn’t seem reasonable,” Davis said.

The sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Matt Hall, R-Marshall, said the regulations are needed to keep people from exploiting the system.

“What we’re seeing in most cases is abuse and in those cases it’s people who just want to bring their pet wherever they’d like,” Hall said.

The proposed legislation would not impact service dogs like the ones trained in Wayland by the nonprofit group Paws With A Cause. Client Relations Manager Becky Canale said many people are confused about the difference between a trained service dog and an emotional support animal. Emotional  support animals do not have the same level of accommodation as service dogs.

“They are allowed to be in rental properties that might restrict or deny access to dogs and they are allowed to fly on planes with the person. Other than that, your typical restaurant, grocery store, movie theaters, they are not open to,” Canale said.

The bill is in the very early stages of being discussed in the Michigan House of Representatives.

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