Missouri Gov. Mike Parson says (service) dog days are over
As reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation Tuesday to make it a misdemeanor crime for anyone knowingly misrepresenting a dog as an assistance dog. The new law goes into effect Aug. 28 and follows efforts by airlines and communities to limit people from traveling, shopping, and dining with animals that aren’t specifically trained to provide emotional or physical support.
A service dog is one protected by the ADA and is trained to support a person with a specific disability. An emotional support animal is not protected by the ADA, and is only valid when designated by a licensed therapist or doctor to give emotional support to the owner.
Many service animal users say the rise of “fake” service animals has made it much harder for their trained animals to be allowed and accepted into stores and other public places. The bill states that the Governor’s council on disability will prepare and make posters showing the new law available online for businesses to put in their windows. The council will also prepare and make available brochures detailing guidelines about service dogs and other assistance animals.
Prairie Conlon, “the world’s leading expert on animal-assisted therapy”, applauded the new legislation and the efforts of Missouri’s government for putting more restrictions on emotional support animals. She noted that emotional support animals have never been protected by the ADA and while they function under the Fair Housing Act for housing situations and under the ACAA for air travel, they’ve never been allowed in shopping centers, restaurants, or other areas only service animals have privileges in.
“In cases where someone is “impersonating a service animal,’ I would be more apt to blame the source they got it from. There are numerous fake websites printing out and rubber stamping letters without an actual doctor or therapist signing off on their prescription, as well as doctors and therapists who are uneducated about an ESA as part of a treatment plan and what privileges they have,” Conlon said.
“When making rulings on these situations, I would keep that in mind as we don’t want to punish people who are seeking services and are just uneducated about how to find them.”
The legislation comes at a perfect time, as we’re coming incredibly close to shutting everything down due to the massive increase in COVID-19 cases.