Service animals are any animal that provides a service that a disabled individual cannot normally perform due to their disability. These services range from the well-known guide dogs for the blind, to animals that are trained to detect oncoming medical issues like seizures. However, because of language in the law designed to protect the disabled individual’s privacy, business owners are seeing a substantial uptick in the frequency of non-disabled people claiming their pets as service animals so they can bring the animal into stores or other places of business.
The Key Problem
The main issue here is balance, in my opinion. I think we can all certainly agree that those with disabilities deserve to be able to keep their privacy, and deserve to be able to use their service animals without harassment. However, it’s becoming clear to the people in many areas that something more is needed to combat those that have no disability from piggybacking on the disabled people’s rights here in their selfish wish to bring their pets into places of business.
Animals are generally unsanitary, and unless they go through a strict training program can be disobedient and cause problems inside the businesses. Unfortunately, the ADA restricts what business owners can do to figure out if the alleged service animal is legitimate. They are allowed to ask the person if the animal is a service animal, and what service the animal is trained to do. So long as the individual says that the animal is a service animal, and is able to give some kind of answer about what service the animal supposedly provides, it is against federal law for the individual to be ejected.
Interesting Cases I’ve Seen
Having worked in the retail setting, I’ve seen a few notable cases of abuse of this ADA rule. In one instance, an individual asserted that the chicken they were carrying was a service animal and that it provided an emotional service, which is indeed covered by the ADA. Yes, that is correct, a chicken can legally be a service animal in my state, and it was being carried around the store.
In another interesting experience, a customer brought in a miniature horse. The horse was supposedly trained to both aids in sight, as well as carry purchased items. The customer answered both of the questions successfully; however I couldn’t help but notice that the horse was walking next to the individual who was able to read signs at a distance, as well as the food labels on packages. I’m not sure whether the chicken was a fraud, but I have little doubt that the horse was indeed a fraud. Of course, that is also one of the problems; many disabilities are invisible.
The groups of people rallying to get the rules changed have yet to rally together, so the proposed changes are not yet unified. However, one common factor that most of them seem to support is a national registry. This registry would be complaint based, where registry is easy to get, but can be revoked if the registry agency gets complaints and finds reason to believe that the animal is not in fact a service animal.
In my opinion this could fix the issue. Of all the instances I’ve seen service animals, it’s usually quite easy to tell when an animal is a service animal or not. They’re generally extremely well behaved, you can usually tell by how the customer acts towards the animal, and you get the distinct impression that the animal isn’t a pet, but rather an extension of the person from what I’ve observed.
Perhaps this is too subjective for something the government should be getting behind, that’s more a decision for lawmakers to tackle rather than me, but what is clear to me is that something needs to change. These service animal frauds are giving real service animals and their handlers a bad name, they are putting your health at risk, and the animals behavior in stores causes staff to divert away from customer service and focus on the animal, which is good for no one.
Americans with Disabilities Act
Federal Way Mirror
Palm Beach Post