Need a support animal? Get a prescription

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Someone needing an emotional support animal would have to get a prescription from a health care provider under recently introduced legislation.

Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and even face jail time. 

The proposed “Misrepresentation of Support Animals Act”  would require a prescription from a Michigan licensed health care provider, rather than obtaining an online certification.

“People misrepresenting support animals are ruining it for people with legitimate disabilities,” said Sara Alguire, a certified service dog trainer at Click! Pawsitive Dog Training in Haslett.

Even walking through grocery stores, support dogs can be heard yipping in their owners’ cart throughout the store, Alguire said. 

It can be a concern for other customers who have allergies to these support animals. Alguire said  there are instances where untrained support animals try to initiate fights with working service animals.

The motivation behind the bill is not only to protect business owners and housing providers but to protect individuals who have an actual need for support animals, bill sponsors said.

Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords must provide “reasonable accommodations” for the owner of certified support animals, along with waiving monthly pet fees.

Additionally, many business owners, especially restaurants, do not want untrained animals in their establishment for no substantive reason, said Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sherman Township, a co-sponsor of the bill.

The misrepresentation of support animals is “getting out of hand,” he said.

Many people register their family pet as a support animal so they can bring it on outings, even though the animal is not providing relief for any psychiatric disorder, said Rep. John Chirkun, D-Roseville, a co-sponsor of the bill. 

“I feel bad that people need emotional support animals in the first place,” Chikurn said. “So I want people to be able to take their animal with them if necessary so long as they abide by code and statute.”

Right now anyone can qualify for a support animal if they go online and receive a prescription from online clinicians, Chikrun said. They can even purchase service vests and tags that would lead anyone to assume that it is a trained animal providing service for its owner’s disability. 

The legislation would only allow a prescription for an emotional support animal to come from a Michigan licensed healthcare provider that has been treating a patient for a minimum of six months.

People who lack proper certification for their animal, or doctors who prescribe a support animal without verifying an actual disability of the owner, could end up with a misdemeanor charge, up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. 

Trained service animals are lawfully allowed to accompany their owner into a business,  but many business owners are increasingly frustrated by the difficult task of verifying if there is an actual need for the animal to accompany its owner, Miller said.

For someone to bring a support animal into a public place, the bill requires them to have the certification from their health care provider with them, Chirkun said.  If a business owner inquires about the animal, the owner would then present the certification.

A support animal does not have to have specialized training. It aids its owner simply with its presence. Service dogs receive specialized training to serve an owner with a specific need.

There are even psychiatric service dogs, trained to ease anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, Alguire said. These dogs are trained to act on a command to mitigate emotional distress in public spaces.  

The most common technique used by a psychiatric service dog is called deep pressure therapy. The owner gives a command when he or she begins to feel signs of anxiety. The dog will then lay across the owners lap and apply pressure and comfort.

In places where there is more space, typically in a home, the dog can lay on the owner and use its weight to apply pressure and bring comfort. 

The bill was referred to the Committee on Regulatory Reform. 

Matt Hall, (R-Marshall), is the bill sponsor. Co-sponsors include, Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette), Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Township), Gregory Markkanen (R-Hancock), Terry Sabo (D-Ravenna), Joseph Bellino (R-Monroe), Frank Liberarti (D-Allen Park), Alex Garza (D-Taylor), Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac) and Luke Meerman (R-Coopersville.)

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