Commissioners consider defining ’emotional support animals’

Commissioners consider regulating emotional support animals
Not all emotional support animals are dogs or cats, like Penelope. - Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – It all started with one well-behaved goat.

In late 2021, a Holmes Beach couple appeared before city commissioners after a passing boater reported their pet goat to code compliance officers. The goat is not just a beloved pet, it’s also an emotional support animal that neighbors signed a petition to encourage city leaders to allow to stay in their neighborhood despite livestock not being allowed in the city of Holmes Beach. And while city leaders had no problem giving the couple permission to keep the emotional support goat, it brought up a larger question about emotional support animals in the city, one that commissioners are trying to get a handle on through new regulations.

After the incident with the goat, then-City Attorney Patricia Petruff suggested that commissioners consider some type of regulations or acknowledgment of emotional support animals in city codes to prevent potential issues. With Petruff’s retirement as city attorney in December, new City Attorney Erica Augello is tackling the issue. And while it was discussed during a Jan. 11 commission work session, commissioners agreed to postpone passing a resolution or ordinance until Augello could do more research into state regulations concerning emotional support animals.

In a draft ordinance presented by Augello that was prepared by Petruff prior to her leaving the city, regulations in Holmes Beach concerning emotional support animals would require a permit through the city to register and keep an emotional support or service animal. Augello suggested commissioners consider adopting definitions of emotional support and service animals, noting that she’s anticipating that the Americans with Disabilities Act will be updated sometime in the future to more closely align the two types of assistance animals.

Another thing for commissioners to consider is the types of animals that can be used as service, emotional support or other assistance animals. While some may consider traditional pets, such as dogs or cats, as emotional support animals, Augello noted that there is a wider variety of animals that are considered by their owners as emotional support animals and that whatever regulations commissioners pass concerning the keeping of these animals by city residents, that needs to be taken into consideration.

While the conversation about animals is currently paused, it is expected to be taken up again by commissioners at a future work session.