Dogging the ADA system
Not all service animals look like this.
We all know—or should know—not to pet a service animal on duty, but did you know service animals aren’t just golden retrievers wearing vests? They also might be that cute purse dog or a miniature horse. And they’re not required to be in uniform when on duty.
Attorney Eileen Muskett of Fox Rothschild in Atlantic City, New Jersey, started looking into the legal requirements involving service animals when several clients started asking her questions about how to deal with specific situations.
Here’s what she advises clients who want to avoid fines from the government under the Americans with Disability Act—which can be substantial—and public embarrassment from advocacy groups that might make botched service a cause.
There are only two questions business owners can ask about a service animal in their space:
1. Is the animal required because of a disability?
2. What work or task has this animal been trained to perform?
An employee can’t ask for proof of a disability or even what the disability is, she cautions. A disabled person and his or her animal must have equal access to all public sections of a restaurant, for instance. Hotels can’t charge an extra deposit for having a “pet” in the room. But a hotelier can ask for reimbursement if the service animal causes damage to the room. And a restaurateur can ask a guest to leave if the dog is barking or causing a problem—such as not making it to the fire hydrant in time.
Lap dogs may look like a pet, but since they are held close to the body, they can be trained to detect early signs of s stroke and help head off the person falling or harming themselves.
Sometimes accommodating a disabled person’s request may seem unreasonable, Muskett says, such as the time a woman wanted to swim in a hotel pool with her service dog. The manager told her they would be happy to accommodate her, but explained in order to do so, they would have to close the pool and clean it before they could allow other guests to swim.
The woman had no idea the hotel would have to go to so much trouble—and that the other guests couldn’t use the pool for several hours—and no longer wanted special accommodations.
Saying “we’d like to accommodate you,” and then explaining reasonably why it would be difficult sometimes will help business owners avoid conflict, she says. But it’s not a tact that can be used when the request is reasonable.
Business owners should also check local, state and federal laws governing service animals, Muskett says. A city in Colorado, she says, has a law that bans any kind of pit bull in public places. “But under federal law, if the pit bull is a service animal,” that’s not enforceable. “Federal law preempts local and state,” she adds.
And as far as service ponies go, the ones being trained are miniature horses about the size of golden retrievers. They have two legs up on dogs: 1) they don’t crave attention the way dogs do, so are less likely to be distracted when out in public, and 2) they live longer, 30 to 40 years. The one down side is they have to live outdoors. But the upside is no shedding in the house.