A Utah lawmaker wants to make it a crime to lie about needing an emotional support animal

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Seven-year-old Skyrie Sacks has a backyard coop full of emotional support animals that — like their Pokémon namesakes — began their lives as a humble egg.

And, according to her mom, Skyrie is out there with her eight chickens on most days that aren’t freezing or snowing or pouring.

If she’s feeling sad, she can cuddle with Mew, a small eruption of white feathers. If she’s full of energy, she can chase Pikachu or Pidgey around their Clinton yard. If she’s feeling generous, she can feed Chansey (her favorite) a special treat: A palm-full of desiccated mealworms.

The Sackses have paid a price so they could keep the chickens, which help Skyrie cope with severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder from a traumatic accident in 2016. Last year, they moved out of their dream home in Herriman because their homeowner association was adamant that the hens must go, even though Skyrie’s parents handed over letters from a therapist and pediatrician affirming the girl’s need for the support animals.

“For somebody to be breathing down my back and trying to take that away, like, the momma bear comes out,” Natalie Sacks, Skyrie’s mom, said. “We just wanted them to leave us alone.”

As the use of assistance animals seems to be increasing around the nation (judging by the growing number of businesses claiming to provide certification, so are the conflicts between people who draw strength from their animal of choice and skeptics who feel it’s a trend run amok. In a bid to ease some of these tensions, state Rep. James Dunnigan is now sponsoring a bill aimed at discouraging people from making illegitimate assertions about needing a support animal.

It’s already a misdemeanor in Utah for people to falsely identify their dogs as service animals, which are specially trained to perform tasks for individuals with disabilities. Dunnigan argues it should also be a crime for people to lie about needing support animals, creatures that offer therapeutic relief simply by virtue of their presence.

The Taylorsville Republican doesn’t expect a sudden rush of pet owner prosecutions but anticipates the provision would act as a deterrent to wrongdoing.

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