BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — In 2021, the state passed new legislation adding onto an existing law which regulates the sale of dogs and cats for emotional support.
In an attempt to reduce emotional support animal fraud, new legislation goes even further to protect individuals with disabilities.
According to the ADA, a service animal is any dog that is individually trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.
This differs from emotional support animals, which are often used as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals.
Assembly Bill 468 went into effect on January 1 and protects individuals with disabilities who rely on their trained service dogs at home and in public.
“Emotional support animals can and do attack legitimate service animals,” said Wallis Brozman.
After multiple run-ins with untrained dogs in public: “I actually did retire my second service dog because he was attacked during our two and a half years together by untrained dogs in public.”
Wallis Brozman with Canine Companions said a new state bill emphasizes that emotional support animals do not have the same rights and privileges as service dogs.
“The aim of this bill was really to try and reduce the misinformation and the misrepresentation of untrained pet dogs as being emotional support dogs, or as being granted to public places where tasked trained service dogs have the right to be in.”
Under the law, a person or business that sells or provides a dog for emotional support, or sells a certificate, identification, tag, vest, leash or harness intended for an emotional support animal should provide a written notice to the buyer stating the dog does not have the special training required to qualify as a guide, signal or service dog.
“We’re hoping that this law these people that are selling these certificates online will no longer be able to,” said Rabih Dow with Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Rabih Dow said service dogs are trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability, whereas emotional support animals are not.
“Our dogs go through over 18 months of training for socialization, for behavior, for technical guiding, and that training is reinforced even after the graduation services.”
Owner of K9 Pawsitive Training, Mitch Ramirez, agrees. She said she helps with obedience training and behavior modification here in Bakersfield.
“When it comes to having an emotional dog, it’s not about training your dog to do something specific, like a service dog would be. It’s more like training a well-behaved dog to where you have control.”
Also under the new law, there’s stricter regulations on health care practitioners. Which says they should not provide documentation of a person’s need for an emotional support dog unless they are licensed to provide services, they’ve completed a clinical evaluation, and established a relationship with the individual for at least 30 days.
“There is an extra level of care that’s coming into people that are seeking help, but it also means that professionals have the tools that they need to understand that this is an appropriate treatment or not,” said Brozman.
AB 468 also said a person, business, or practitioner must provide a verbal or written notice to the individual letting them know it’s a misdemeanor to falsely represent yourself as owning or training a service dog. Civil penalties could follow in these cases as well.