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Archive for the ‘Florida Animal Law’ Category

The Problem with Fake Service Dogs

August 17th, 2011 131 comments
Fake Service Dog ID

Fake Service Dog IDs are Easy to Come By

Recently, as my husband and I were waiting to board a plane from Atlanta to Tampa, we noticed a young woman walking around at the same gate.  With one hand, she held a cell phone to her ear.  With the other, she held a canvas bag.

Hanging limply in the crook of the woman’s cell phone arm was a tiny Chihuahua with a pink, rhinestone-studded collar around its neck.

We watched the woman for fifteen or twenty minutes as she walked back and forth carrying on her never ending phone conversation, all the while clutching that sad looking little dog, its back paws dangling as she gripped it by its stomach in the crook of her arm.

Finally, my cynical husband echoed my own thoughts as he remarked, “Just watch.  She’s going to claim that is a service dog so she can take it on the plane.”

Sure enough, as she boarded the plane, the woman flashed some sort of laminated card and, without further inquiry, she went to her seat.  By then, the little Chihuahua was stuffed into the canvas bag.  Cell Phone Lady was still on the cell phone.

Phony Service Dog IDs

Of course, I cannot say for certain that the woman I saw was not disabled.  Many disabilities are not readily observable to strangers.  And I can’t say for sure that the sad looking little Chihuahua hanging there like a rag doll was not a service dog, trained to help the woman with whatever disability she suffered from.

But, given the look of the entire scenario, it did raise my suspicions, particularly as the dog had more of an appearance of an unwilling and not very well-cared-for accessory than an animal trained to assist someone with a disability.

And there have been a number of disturbing stories in the news recently about nondisabled dog owners trying to pass off their pets as service animals in order to gain access with their dogs to restaurants, stores, restricted housing, public transportation, and other areas where dogs would not otherwise be permitted.

Fake Service Dog IDs are Easy to Obtain

Fake service dog vests, ID cards, certificates, and other indicia of legitimacy are readily available for sale on the internet for anyone who wants to spend a little money.  The problem is, these fake service dogs and their owners are doing a disservice to people with real disabilities who use trained animals for legitimate assistance.

On top of just plain fraudulent behavior, these phony service dog handlers:

  • Often fail to properly clean up after their animals;
  • Frequently bring animals that are poorly trained or badly behaved into establishments; and
  • As a result, give legitimate service dog handlers a bad name.

Florida’s Definition of a Service Animal

Under Florida Statute § 413.08, a “service animal” is defined as “an animal that is trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability.”  This broad definition includes animals (not necessarily just dogs) that are trained to perform such tasks as:

  • Guiding a visually impaired or blind person
  • Alerting someone who is deaf or hard of hearing
  • Assisting someone in a wheelchair
  • Assisting with mobility or balance
  • Alerting and protecting someone with seizures
  • Retrieving objects
  • Performing other tasks as needed

Florida law specifically provides that a service animal “is not a pet.”

Florida Law:  Penalties for False Service Dog Credentials?

Service Dogs are Trained

True Service Dogs are Trained to Help Their Disabled Owners

Florida law provides that a person accompanied by a service dog does not have to provide documentation that the dog is trained as a service dog.  An establishment may, however, ask if the animal is a service animal, and may ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform in order to determine whether the animal is really a service animal or just a pet.

And the establishment may exclude or remove an animal from the premises, even if it really is a service animal, “if the animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others.”

Although there are criminal penalties for people and companies who deny or interfere with the accommodation of a disabled person accompanied by a service animal, Florida law does not appear to provide any penalty for persons who fraudulently seek accommodation through the use of an animal falsely identified as a service animal.

How to Spot a Phony Service Dog

Wayne K. Roustan in the Sun Sentinel reports that the best way to determine whether a dog is a legitimate service dog is to observe its behavior.  Real service dogs:

  • Do not appear restless
  • Do not jump or bark
  • Will obey the disabled owner’s commands
  • Will perform tasks
  • Will lie down passively when instructed

It is a disgrace that any nondisabled dog owner would try to gain an undeserved accommodation for their pet by passing it off as a service animal.  Real service animals perform valuable tasks for their disabled owners, and several years of often very expensive training can go into making a dog a true service dog.

Nevertheless, as long as sellers are willing to sell, and owners are willing to buy, phony “credentials” for pets, all with apparent impunity, the practice of unscrupulous pet owners passing their pets off as service animals will continue.

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Update on Florida’s Farm Photography Bill

April 26th, 2011 No comments

We have been following SB 1246 as it makes its way through the Florida Legislature.  Recall from prior posts that Senator Jim Norman (R-12) introduced what we dubbed the “Florida Felony Farm Photography Bill” a few months ago.  As it was originally introduced, SB 1246 would have made it a first-degree felony to trespass onto a farm or to take photographs of a farm without the written consent of the farm’s owner.

Cows Photographed from the Roadside

The bill was aimed at combatting the efforts of groups such as the Humane Society of the United States who seek to expose what they consider to be cruel conditions on farms. 

As originally introduced, though, the bill was overbroad.  That is, the bill went so far in trying to prohibit certain conduct (photographing farming operations) that it would also have infringed on free speech.  For instance, the original text of the bill would have criminalized the mere act of photographing or making a video of a pastoral scene from one’s car or the public sidewalk.

And even if the bill did not suffer from overbreadth in its original incarnation, it was still ridiculously punitive.  Generally speaking, a first-degree felony is punishable by up to 30 years in prison under Florida law.

Revisions to the Bill

A Staff Analysis of the bill prepared on March 8, 2011, noted the very concerns we have been discussing here, namely lack of scienter and overbreadth.  The Analysis stated, “This bill does not take into account the intent of any violators of the statute nor does it create any exemptions such as for emergency response personnel, those touring a farm or those trespassing on a farm unintentionally.”  The Analysis also found,  “There may be potential First Amendment issues with the bill as written because the bill does not require that the offender actually be on private property to be guilty of photographing, etc., without the written consent of the owner.” 

SB 1246 has now been substantially revised.  It now provides that any person except a law enforcement officer or an employee or agent of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services acting under the law who enters a farm and produces an audio or photographic record without the owner’s written consent commits a first-degree misdemeanor.

So, the revisions addressed most of the concerns noted in the Staff Analysis.  Specifically, the revised SB 1246:

  • Creates an exception for law enforcement and Department of Agriculture personnel; and
  • Requires that violator actually be on the farm property while making the audio or photographic record of the farm’s operations.

Moreover, and quite significantly, the current version of SB 1246 knocks a violation from a whopping first-degree felony down to a first-degree misdemeanor. 

Nevertheless, the revised version of SB 1246 still arguably lacks a scienter element.  That is, there is no requirement that a person willfully enter the farm and take photographs without permission.  A person could accidentally stray onto a farm while on a hike, for example, and end up breaking this law.

If it passes, SB 1246 will take effect July 1, 2011.

Senator Jim Norman can be contacted at (813) 265-6260 or (850) 487-5068.  His e-mail address is norman.jim.web@flsenate.gov.

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Categories: Florida Animal Law

Florida Felony Farm Photography Bill will Undergo Significant Revisions

March 11th, 2011 6 comments

SB 1246, introduced by Senator Jim Norman (R-12), would make trespassing on a farm and photographing the farm, a first degree felony. 

Under the bill as it presently stands, a person could face a first degree felony charge, punishable by up to 30 years in prison, for:

  • Entering onto a farm or other property where agricultural operations are being carried out without the written consent of the owner or authorized representative.
  • Photographing, video recording, or otherwise producing images or pictorial records of the farm without the written consent of the owner or authorized representative.

As can be expected, the draft of SB 1246 that was introduced on March 8 has drawn sharp criticism from animal rights groups and First Amendment proponents.

I spoke with Dennis Cadle, Legislative Assistant to Sen. Nelson, this afternoon about the measure.  Cadle stated that the bill is set to undergo significant revisions to address constitutional concerns and to clarify the intent requirement for violating the law.

The Purpose Behind the Introduction of SB 1246

According to Cadle, the purpose behind the measure is the protection of property rights and intellectual property rights of farmers in the State of Florida.  Cadle explained that the proposed legislation is designed to prevent persons or groups such as PETA, the Humane Society and others from being able to conduct covert or undercover “sting operations” on farms because they disagree with “otherwise legitimate business operations” of the farms.

Cadle likened the activity of these groups to actions on the part of abortion opponents who would use improper means to object to otherwise legal actions.

Cadle clarified that the bill is not intended to act as a shield to allow farmers and ranchers to avoid scrutiny for illegal acts such as cruelty to animals or the employment of illegal aliens.  The application of the law would be limited to persons who, for example, gain entry onto the property by misrepresentation or subterfuge and then proceed to film or photograph legal activities they happen to disagree with.

Pictures of Cows

SB 1246 is Set for Major Overhaul

Revisions Are in the Works for SB 1246

Of course, for such limits to apply, the bill will have to undergo major revisions.  As it stands, the language of the bill is so broad that an individual who unwittingly wanders onto a farmer’s property after getting lost on a hike would be in violation and face a first degree felony charge, as would a tourist who snaps a photograph of a farm scene from the roadway.

Cadle explained that as part of the overhaul of SB 1246, a person would have to actually be trespassing on the farm in order to face criminal charges for photographing, video recording or otherwise producing visual records of the farm. 

Anyone interested in tracking SB 1246 can sign up for updates from the Florida Senate website. 

Senator Jim Norman can be contacted at (813) 265-6260 or (850) 487-5068.  His e-mail address is norman.jim.web@flsenate.gov.

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Categories: Florida Animal Law

Thirty Years in Prison for Photographing Farm Animals?

March 9th, 2011 17 comments

A Florida state senator has introduced a bill that would punish the unauthorized photographing of farms with up to 30 years in prison.

State Senator Jim Norman (R-12) has introduced SB 1246.  Under the bill, the following activities would be deemed first-degree felonies:

  • Entering onto a farm or other property where agricultural operations are being carried out without the written consent of the owner or authorized representative.
  • Photographing, video recording, or otherwise producing images or pictorial records of “legitimate agriculture operations” without the written consent of the owner or authorized representative.
Thirty Years in Prison for Trespassing on a Cow Pasture

First Degree Felony for Trespassing on Someone's Cow Pasture?

The bill defines a farm as “any tract of land cultivated for the purpose of agricultural production, the raising or breeding of domestic animals, or the storage of a commodity.”

Felony Trespass on a Farm

Under the plain language of the proposed law, simply entering onto a farm without written permission could land a person in prison for up to 30 years.  Compare this proposed legislation with other statutory provisions dealing with trespass.

Chapter 810 of the Florida Statutes deals with burglary and trespass.  Section 810.08 forbids the willful trespass in a structure or conveyance; § 801.09 addresses trespass on property other than a structure or conveyance; and § 810.095 deals with trespass on school property with a firearm or other weapon.  

Sections 810.08 through 810.095 provide various penalties for trespass depending upon the circumstances.  For example, ordinary trespass on property that is not a structure or conveyance is a first degree misdemeanor.  Armed trespass in a structure, conveyance, or on property, including school property, is a third degree felony.

The key difference between SB 1246 and these other Florida trespass statutes is that the other trespass statutes require that, in order to be punishable as a crime, the trespass must be “willful.” 

Florida courts have consistently held that the term “willful” means “intentional, knowing, and purposeful.”  Thus, there is no requirement in the proposed bill that the person entering onto a farm do so intentionally, knowingly and purposefully.  There is no requirement that a person intend to trespass on the farm.  Simply stepping onto farm property without the written permission of the owner or authorized representative could land a person in prison for up to 30 years. 

Photographing or Video Recording of “Legitimate” Agricultural Operations

The photographs you see here were taken from the side of State Road 56 in Pasco County.  They contain images of grazing cattle in the fields of the beautiful Wiregrass Ranch (what is left of it). 

"Felony" Farm Photography

I took these photographs myself a few days ago, without obtaining the written authorization of the owners or the authorized representatives of the ranch.  If SB 1246 passes, after July 1, 2011, such behavior on my part could lead to a first degree felony conviction and up to 30 years in prison.

What is the Purpose Behind SB 1246?

As yet, no Staff Analysis has been published explaining the purpose behind SB 1246.  In a recent article, the Florida Tribune quoted Wilton Simpson, a farmer living in Senator Norman’s district, as saying that the bill is needed to protect the property rights of farmers and the “intellectual property” of farm operations.

There is nothing in the plain language of the bill, however, that requires a person have any intent whatsoever, much less an intent to violate the farm owner’s property rights or “intellectual property” involving farm operations.  The bill, as it was introduced, would very clearly outlaw my act of snapping a few pictures of farm animals even if my only intent in doing so was to give expression to a vision of the vanishing Florida pasture land.

As a constituent of Senator Norman’s, I contacted his office seeking clarification on the purpose and meaning of this bill.  At this time, I have not received a reply.

Senator Jim Norman can be contacted at (813) 265-6260 or (850) 487-5068.  His e-mail address is norman.jim.web@flsenate.gov.

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Categories: Florida Animal Law