Allowing Service Animals at Your Organization// on Thursday January 21, 2016
Pets and their owners can be a hard thing to separate. People take them on planes, in cars and even on shopping trips in specially-designed bags. But some people need an animal in their life for more than just companionship.
They need animals to help them cross the street safely, remind them to take their medication and alert them they are about to have a seizure. There is a clear difference between a pet and a service animal. If you’ve ever wondered whether or not you should allow service animals inside your organization, continue reading.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), if you have members or guests at your facility with services animals, you should be aware of the following regulations:
- Service animals are defined as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” Examples include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, and pulling a wheelchair, among others. Service animals are working animals, not pets, and dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals. Please note, some state and local laws differ, so consult a local attorney for specifics in your state.
- Service animals are allowed to accompany people with disabilities anywhere the general public is normally allowed to go.
- Service animals must be controlled by a harness, leash or tether, unless these devices interfere with the services they provide or the individual’s disability prevents them from using these devices.
- Train staff and volunteers on how to appropriately interact with service animals and their owners. The ADA only allows staff and volunteers to ask the following two questions:
- Is the dog a service animal because of a disability?
- What work or task has the dog been trained to perform? The staff cannot make any inquiries into the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability or perform the work or task.
- Allergies or fear of dogs cannot be used as reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals.
- A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his or her service animal from the premises, unless
- The animal is out of control and the handler cannot regain control; or
- The dog is not housebroken.
- If your organization sells or serves food, you must allow animals in public areas, even if state or local health codes would prohibit animals on the property.
- You cannot isolate those who use service dogs from other patrons, treat them less favorably or charge them fees you wouldn’t charge other patrons without animals.
Consider creating a policy for your organization surrounding service animals, including the items listed above, and training staff and volunteers on how to appropriately respond in these situations. For further information on service animal regulations, review the latest ADA requirements.