Photo: BetterGeorgia

Self-Proclaimed Marijuana Advocate Wants Crackdown on Emotional Support Ferrets, Rats

Senator Renee Unterman recently appeared on WABE’s “Closer Look” in December and while she was seeking to promote her work on the study committee for service animals, she misled the public on her legislative record.

Unterman is a former nurse and longtime healthcare executive. She works for the state’s leading Medicaid contract recipient and is Chair of the Senate Health & Human Services committee.

Unterman was also the Chair of the Study Committee on the Physically or Mentally Impaired Persons, which recently gathered over several months of 2018 to hear testimony from various players in the service animal arena, including the apartment industry, the hospitality industry, and supermarket companies.

In the interview on WABE, which you can listen to here, Unterman talks about the state’s need to address the fact that people are using the term ‘emotional support animal’ as a cover to take their pets places. She said when people take their emotional support animals places, they’re infringing on the rights of people who need a service animal. Unterman used the example of taking pets to Home Depot as one of those infringements on the rights of people who need service animals, though Home Depot is among the places in the state and nation where pets are welcomed regardless of service animal status.

Under current certification processes, emotional support animals and service animals go through the same training but have different parameters and only service animals are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Unterman said it has caused “a huge problem” because people are skirting the pet deposit stipulations of leases with their animals because landlords and business owners don’t know the law.  She also highlighted the problem of emotional support rats and ferrets being brought into hospitals.

The ADA definition of a service animal is as follows: “A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” Unterman said in the interview that the definition was concise, but “then you get into the interpretation of what the law is and it goes through agencies…you know I’ve been elected for 20 years and I’ve done a lot of big issues since I’ve been in the General Assembly and this probably the most complicated issue I’ve ever tackled.”

Among the recommendations, Unterman said:

  1. State State Senator Kay Kirkpatrick will be dropping legislation to remove the liability from a person who smashes a car window to save a dog in a hot car
  2. The state is going to take on the initiative of “educating the public” on what a service animal is
  3. The state will revise the state code to match the federal code which “is tricky because it’s not just laws but policies of the federal government,” Unterman said.

Unterman said “the number one goal of the committee is to do no harm,” but she wants people to show more proof from a medical doctor with regard to who has service animals. She wants a public education crackdown on people using quack doctors to obtain service and emotional support animal paperwork.

Where Unterman Misled the Public

Unterman, in her interview, claimed she has been involved in the marijuana issue “for years and years and years,” but in reality, Unterman has been one of the single largest obstacles to progression of any cannabis or medical marijuana related legislation under the Gold Dome for 5 consecutive legislative sessions.

Her quote:

“I’ve been involved in the marijuana issue for years and years and years. And if Congress would just make a nationwide law, the states would not have to step up to the table and piece meal this. Because after all, we’re one of the states with the busiest international airports in the world, so how are travelers affected by whatever state law we make?”

Her legislative record:

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2 COMMENTS

  1. But that’s not how any of it works.

    1. There is no such thing as certification in the U.S.

    2. ESAs are medically prescribed pets and need 0 training. Service dogs are task trained to mitigate the handler’s disibility.

    3. Housing is covered under FHA/HUD law. Under that law if you are disabled by your condition, you qualify for the accomodation of an “assistance animal”. That term covers: service dogs, service dogs in training and emotional support animals. So, by law, for properties that are covered by FHA/HUD they must waive fees for ESAs also.

  2. Is this your understanding or the senetors?

    “Under current certification processes, emotional support animals and service animals go through the same training but have different parameters and only service animals are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Unterman said it has caused “a huge problem”

    It is not the same training or process.

    ESA’s are pets with no specific training whos mere presence is a comfort to the owner. No certs. No training.

    Service dogs have 1-2 years of task training and public access training to mitigate a disability.

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