is a growing controversy over the use of service animals in public places.
As with any controversy, there are two sides to the issue: That of the
consumer who uses a service animal and that of the service industry who
serves the general public. To tie them together, we have the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA), the law that provides the right for people with
disabilities to have their service animals in public places.
The controversy is not really over allowing a
legitimate service animal into a place of public accommodation, it’s over
determining which animals are considered to be “legitimate” service animals.
We’ve become accustomed to service dogs and the ability they have to serve a
human being, but what about the iguanas, monkeys, gerbils, snakes and even
horses people have been showing up with? How far does this go and how do we
serve the public without making other guests uncomfortable?
The ADA defines a service animal as “any guide dog,
signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an
individual with a disability.” If they meet this definition, animals are
considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have
been licensed or certified by a state or local government.
How Animals Serve
Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual
with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. “Seeing eye dogs” are
one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is
the type of service animal with which most people are familiar. But there
are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in
their day-to-day activities. Some examples include:
• Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds.
• Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things
for persons with
• Assisting persons with mobility impairments with
The type of animal makes no difference. What we need to
know is what service that animal is TRAINED to provide.
If you are not certain that an animal is a service
animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal
required because of a disability and what service the animal is trained to
provide. Keep in mind an individual is not likely to be carrying
documentation of his or her medical condition or disability. Therefore, such
documentation generally may not be required as a condition for providing
service to an individual accompanied by a service animal. Although a number
of states have programs to certify service animals, you may not insist on
proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to
accompany the person with a disability.
People who say they have “comfort” animals generally
are not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act because the animal
has not been “individually trained” to provide a service. Snakes, for
instance, are not generally animals that are trained to provide “comfort,”
even though someone may feel more comfortable when they’re around. The
determination is in whether the animal has been, or can be, trained to
perform the service needed.
You may exclude any animal, including a service animal, from your facility
when that animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of
others. For example, any service animal that displays vicious behavior
towards other guests or customers may be excluded. You may not make
assumptions, however, about how a particular animal is likely to behave
based on your past experience
with other animals. For instance, just because you may have a fear of a
Doberman Pinscher does not mean you can exclude entrance to one from your
facility unless it specifically threatens you or another patron. Each
situation must be considered individually.
A person with a disability can not be asked to remove
his service animal from the premises unless:
1. The animal is out of
control and the animal’s owner does not take
effective action to control (for example, a dog that
2. The animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
either of these were to occur, an entity should give the person with the
disability some options. Moving them to a more isolated area can be one of
the options offered, but is certainly not the only option. Each situation
should be evaluated to determine if there are options that would allow a
person to remain in the facility, with their service animal. If not, the
person must have the option to remain in the facility without their animal.
This allows them to enjoy the venue while their animal waits in the car, if
the animal can not behave inside.
You may not charge any extra fees to a person using a
service animal. For example, you may not charge them for blocking seats
around them or for any fees associated with them having the animal. You may
charge damages if the animal damages something as you would charge damages
to any other patron. They may not be isolated from other patrons or treated
less favorably than any other patron.
The key here is to work with some-one as best you can,
without jeopardizing the operation or safety of others so that everyone has
equal access to the goods and services offered by your facility.
is president/CEO of Accessology, Inc. Visit www.accessology.com for more