Florida is cracking down on fake emotional support animals


PALMETTO, Fla. (WBBH) – When his harness is on, Carson the yellow labrador is aware of it’s time to work. 

“Okay Carson, forward and left. Good job,” Suzy Wilburn mentioned whereas strolling with him.

“He’s always looking around our environment to make sure the hazards are not in my way,” Wilburn added.

Wilburn began shedding her imaginative and prescient when she was simply 27 years outdated. Carson has been together with her for a decade now. 

“If I look directly in front of me, I see a million small sparkles, like fireworks,” Wilburn defined. “[Carson] is my rebirth. I can’t imagine my life without him. He’s allowed me to be a better person.” 


Carson is a service animal, which is completely different from an emotional support animal (ESA). 

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal can solely be a canine or a miniature horse. An ESA will be any animal. Snakes, monkeys, and even alligators have been thought of ESAs. 

A service animal have to be skilled in duties straight associated to a incapacity. An ESA does not should be skilled. 

A service animal is granted broad entry to public locations, per federal regulation. An ESA is not granted that very same entry, although state and native legal guidelines could fluctuate. 

A service animal does not require documentation. To entry public locations, an ESA usually does require paperwork. 


But precisely how simple is it to get documentation for an emotional support animal? The NBC2 Investigators needed to seek out out.  

We simply discovered an internet site providing ESA certification – there are various on the market – took a fast quiz, and inside simply minutes we have been pre-qualified. 

After paying $97, it was just a few hours earlier than the official, doctor-approved ESA paperwork got here in by way of e-mail. We had gotten authorized for a canine that doesn’t really exist – no proof or physician’s go to required. 

“That’s dangerous,” Wilburn mentioned of the convenience of acquiring ESA paperwork. “I mean, not just for the person getting it. It’s dangerous for their dog, it’s dangerous for me. It’s dangerous for you.” 

Wilburn mentioned she is usually impacted by fake or fraudulent service animals or ESAs.

“I would say it’s as bad as it’s ever been,” she mentioned. 


When Wendy Law bought sick 18 years in the past, she desperately wanted an emotional support animal. Back then, it was tougher to get approval. She needed to have each a veterinarian and her personal doctor log off on it.

“I’ve heard the craziest things with dogs that aren’t even well behaved,” Law mentioned. “It’s very disheartening for the people that really need the service.” 

Law and her daughter run Maverick Grille in Fort Myers. They love animals and permit them contained in the restaurant, however Law admits that the principles on service animals, ESAs, and what companies can or can’t do has gotten complicated. 

According to the ADA, companies can solely ask two questions of individuals with service animals:

  1. Is the canine a service animal required due to a incapacity?
  2. What work or process has the canine been skilled to carry out? 

Wilburn mentioned folks with fake ESAs know the right way to make the most of that.

“We go into a lot of restaurants and we see people try to enter in with an animal, and there’s signs up that they’re not welcome, even on their outside area. My heart goes to these people,” Law mentioned. “At the same time… the animal doesn’t necessarily need to be there.” 


Last 12 months, Florida Senator Manny Diaz Jr. helped create a regulation that goals to crack down on fast, on-line ESA certificates, particularly for tenants who attempt to abuse the system with their pets.

“It got to a point where it became ridiculous with the kind of animals that they were trying to put on there,” Diaz Jr. mentioned in a Zoom interview. “No real accountability for those certificates.”

It’s now a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida if folks misrepresent the necessity for a service animal or an ESA. 

Meanwhile, the federal authorities has now dominated that solely canines can fly with passengers as service animals, not ESAs. 

“We probably need to take a further look… figure out what other problems can be solved on the state level,” Diaz mentioned. “This is not the end-all be-all, it’s a step. But I think there’s more work to be done.”

Wilburn works for the very place that helped her 10 years in the past: Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto. The non-profit has skilled service canines like Carson for almost 40 years now. 

“It’s important for people to understand, I need my dog with me,” Wilburn defined. “I don’t just want him there. I need him for my safety.”