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Although “support dogs” is the most common name for dogs who provide emotional support to their owners, the more correct term is “emotional support animal” (ESA). The most common ESA is a dog - this is why we named the business Support Dogs of Florida. But an ESA can be any domesticated animal of any age. Click here for a list of examples.
An ESA is a person’s pet that has been prescribed for you by a licensed mental health professional, psychologist, social worker, or psychiatrist. Usually, your medical doctor does not qualify because they are not a trained mental health provider. The animal is part of the treatment program for this person and is designed to bring comfort and minimize the negative symptoms of the person’s emotional/psychological disability. The animal doesn’t have to have any specialized training except to behave in public.
In order to legally qualify for an ESA in Florida, a person must be considered by a Florida licensed mental health professional (therapist, social worker, psychologist, and psychiatrist) to have an emotional need or problem that the ESA can fulfill.
HOW IT WORKS:
The National Institute of Mental Health shows that more than 1 in 4 adults in the United States have some form of mental health issue. If you are suffering from an emotional or psychological condition then you are entitled to an emotional support animal. Even if you have not been diagnosed before, this is the purpose of an evaluation from a mental health provider.
According to Florida law, "a person who knowingly and willfully misrepresents herself or himself, through conduct or verbal or written notice, as using a service animal and being qualified to use a service animal or as a trainer of a service animal commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083 and must perform 30 hours of community service for an organization that serves individuals with disabilities, or for another entity or organization at the discretion of the court, to be completed in not more than 6 months." - 2016 Florida Statutes, 413.08 (9).