Seven year old Skyrie Sacks has a backyard loft full of emotional support animals that, like their Pokémon names, started their lives as a modest egg.
And according to her mother, Skyrie is with her eight chickens on most days that do not freeze or snow or pour.
If she feels sad, she can cuddle with Mew, a small burst of white feathers. When she is full of energy, she can chase Pikachu or Pidgey around their Clinton garden. If she feels generous, she can give Chansey (her favorite) a special treat: a handful of dried mealworms.
The Sackses have paid a price so they can keep the chickens, which helps Skyrie to deal with severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder due to a traumatic accident in 2016. Last year they moved out of their dream home in Herriman because their homeowners' association was adamant that the chickens should even though Skyrie's parents handed over letters from a therapist and pediatrician confirming the girl's need for the supporting animals.
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"For someone who breathes on my back and tries to take it away, like, the mom bear comes out," said Natalie Sacks, Skyrie's mother. "We just wanted them to leave us alone."
Because the use of auxiliary animals around the country seems to increase (judging by the growing number of companies that claim to give certification), so also the conflicts between people who draw strength from their animal choice and skeptics who think it is a trend loop. . In an attempt to remove some of these tensions, citizen James Dunnigan now proposes a bill to discourage people from making unlawful claims about having a supportive animal.
In Utah, it is already a crime that people identify false dogs as service animals, specially trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. Dunnigan argues that it must also be a crime for people to lie about needing support animals, beings that offer therapeutic relief only because of their presence.
The Republican of Taylorsville does not expect a sudden rush of persecution from the owner of a pet, but expects the provision to be a deterrent to a crime.
An association of apartment owners supports the amendment to the Penal Code and claims that landlords are at their wit's end with tenants trying to donate their pets as support animals. Dunnigan said his bill would benefit people with legitimate needs, whose requests are sometimes drowned out by pet owners who are simply trying to get a quick check from their landlords or neighbors.
"There have been so many people who say they are eligible for support animals, and whether they really do it is something that landlords find it difficult to distinguish," said Dunnigan, whose disclosure forms show that he has a financial interest in residential rental condos & # 39; s.
But others say that the change could create a new barrier to housing for people with disabilities.
"These people need their support animals so much that many of them are unable to live independently, but for their service or supportive animal." The clear goal and predictable effect of the bill is to deter people – real people with real disability-related needs – from wanting to enforce their rights in the first place, "said Nick Jackson, a lawyer at law Disability Law Center, during a hearing in October for the Business and Labor Interim Committee.
The legislation won a unanimous recommendation from the committee, with several legislators suggesting that the situation of support animals is likely to get out of hand.
Plane passengers have in recent years the headlines for carrying emotional support animals such as a squirrel, peacock and turkey. Earlier this month, United Airlines announced that it would prohibit comfort animals from flying for more than eight hours; the airline named "increases on board incidents on longer flights involving these animals, many of whom are not used to spending a long time in an aircraft's cabin."
While airlines have been able to limit emotional support animals, the federal Fair Housing Act obliges landlords to make reasonable adjustments by, for example, exempting a disabled person from a policy for non-pets or refusing deposits on pets. The law of Utah also prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants who own service animals, and the Dunnigan bill would provide the same protection to people with supporting animals.
Paul Smith, director of the Utah Apartment Association, said that landlords see a peak in requests for assistance for assistance animals, adding that he has heard of tenants with support hamsters, iguanas and snakes. And landlords do not know how to deal with requests that they suspect are fraudulent.
"It makes landlords crazy that people use that to get away with breaking the rules," he said. "Landlords feel burned."
Smith says that some landlords ban pets because they do not want the animals to damage the rented housing or defecate in common areas. Then there is the risk that an animal attacks a neighbor. It is a very common topic in classes of good landlords.
"I can not go 10 minutes in any class without someone asking me for a request for assistants and how to deal with them," Smith said.
However, the association has no data on the prevalence of false claims about the need for service animals.
Jackson says he knows nobody who has been accused of violating the existing law on service animals. But he has heard of landlords who use the threat of persecution to intimidate tenants with a legitimate need for a service dog.
Jackson said that landlords can already do a legal story if they suspect someone of falsehood: they can request evidence that a therapist or doctor sees the tenant's need for a supportive animal and rejects the request if the person is not sufficiently confirmed.
Some lawmakers have said that purchasing documentation can be as easy as filling out a form on a website and submitting a payment; Jackson said that there are unreliable online companies that fall prey to people with disabilities, but landlords tend to recognize and refuse these damaged certificates.
Sometimes disabled people are left without access to the animals that help them, Jackson says.
The law firm has one client who has an assistance dog to help him cope with a congenital heart disease that causes him to faint a few times a day. The dog is trained to stabilize him or even break his fall when he falls, Jackson said.
The landlord of the man initially refused to keep his dog at home because his written documentation from a cardiologist was more than a year old. It took the client of Jackson several months to make a new appointment and got updated documents from his clinician.
Some people with disabilities are so afraid of expulsion that they give up their assistance animals or look for another home, he said.
"The threat of criminal liability can do the same," he warned, "stop people from getting the services they need or accept fewer homes than they could get."
Smith argues that legitimate owners of assistance dogs or support animals have nothing to fear from Dunnigan's proposed law.
"I do not think it will have a chilling effect on disability claims," he said. "I think it will have a chilling effect on people who are in that gray area."
Natalie Sacks said she has some sympathy for landlords and believes that there are people who abuse the concept of animals with emotional support. But just because an animal is a bit unconventional does not mean that it is not a real source of comfort for someone with a disability, she said.
When Skyrie was 4 years old, she slipped on gravel outside her home in Herriman and slammed the right side of her face against the pavement. She has already undergone two operations and is facing a life full of potential complications, her mother said. Some time after the accident Skyrie seemed to be trapped in anxious and anxious situations. She would not even play outside.
Until the chickens arrived.
The family bought the chickens about a year ago for the eggs and initially did not consider them as support animals, said Natalie Sacks. That changed when lovers saw how Skyrie transformed for them.
& # 39; When she is in an anxious or anxious state, we simply say: & # 39; Hey, let's go outside and see the chickens, & # 39; & # 39; said Natalie Sacks. "It's like magic."