I walk my two very friendly dogs—a black lab and a yellow lab—in public places regularly. We encounter lots of people who are afraid of dogs.  I’ve been more aware of how people respond and react to dogs recently because of all the media and attention related to service animals, assistance animals, and emotional support animals.

The latest media attention grabber, Dexter the Peacock, has everyone in the community association industry hopeful for clarification about community associations’ policies regarding pets and emotional support animals.

Here is how Dexter’s story goes: Dexter was denied boarding on his owner’s United Airlines flight from Newark to Los Angeles last week due to health and safety reasons. According to United Airlines, Dexter’s owner, who is an artist, was notified several times prior to her arrival at the airport that Dexter would not be allowed to board. The owner purchased a ticket for Dexter anyway.

Dexter and its owner have quite a connection, according to the Miami New Times, which published a story about their relationship. “We all live together in harmony,” the artist says. “It’s kind of strange that it works so well, but rather than question it, I am just accepting the gifts of the universe.”  The Miami New Times included a fabulous picture of Dexter on a leash being walked by his owner.

Intent on creating a policy that reduces fraudulent misrepresentation while creating a friendly environment for those who truly have a need for a service or emotional support animal, United Airlines and Delta Airlines recently updated their policies related to service animals and emotional support animals. Both airlines must contend with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) when dealing customers and their service animals.

While some people hope that the community association business can benefit from how the airlines respond to challenges like this one, community associations have to consider different laws, including the Fair Housing Act. However, I believe that both industries want federal and state courts to clarify laws that provide a framework improve a system that supports those with legitimate needs and minimizes opportunities for misrepresentation.

Currently, nearly 20 states have laws that specifically address fraudulent representation of service animals. Click here to view a comprehensive research page by Rebecca F. Wisch at the University of Michigan School of Law that compares laws in all 50 states concerning assistance animals. For the most part, the various laws about fraudulent representation, which are informed by the ADA’s rules about service animals, are misdemeanors punishable by a fine. Some states are going a step further this year to include housing providers and what they may (or may not) require accommodating a service animal request. Click here to access a list of recently introduced state legislation that addresses the housing provider’s role.

Click here to download CAI’s popular “Pets or Service Animals?” reference guide. For more on CAI pets, click here.

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