Monday, February 15, 2016

A Business Owner’s Guide to Service Dogs

Service dogs are trained to perform tasks that help people with disabilities. Service dogs don’t just help people that can’t see anymore; they also assist people that can’t hear, people that have trouble walking, people that have seizure disorders, people with mental illnesses, people with autism, and more. Any breed or size of dog can be a service dog. The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law that allows people with disabilities to take their service dogs into most public places even if pets aren’t normally permitted. Violating the Americans with Disabilities Act can get business owners into trouble with the U.S. Department of Justice.
What questions are you allowed to ask people with service dogs?
Business owners are only allowed to ask two questions if a customer comes in with a dog. You can ask, “Is that a service dog required due to a disability?” and “What task is the dog trained to perform?” If the dog’s owner refuses to answer those two questions, you are not required by law to allow them to bring their dog into your business.
What can’t you ask?
You can’t ask any other questions about the dog. You can’t ask what the owner’s disability is, you can’t ask to see identification for the dog, you can’t ask to see a letter from the owner’s doctor or a letter from the dog’s trainer, and you can’t ask if the dog is a certified service dog (there’s no such thing as official certification for service dogs). You can’t ask to see the dog demonstrate the tasks the owner says the dog is trained to perform.
You also cannot require the dog to have on a special vest that designates it as a service dog. Most service dogs do wear a service dog vest but it is not required by law.
How do you know it’s a real service dog?
You may not know for sure. If the dog’s owner answers the two questions you are allowed to ask and if the dog is behaving appropriately in public, then it’s probably a real service dog.
When can you ask someone to remove their dog?
You can ask someone to remove their dog, regardless of whether or not it is a legitimate service dog, if the dog is not housebroken or if it is behaving in a disruptive manner. If the dog barks more than once or twice, if the dog sniffs or licks or jumps on other customers, if the dog sniffs or licks merchandise, you can ask the owner to remove the dog.
What about service dogs in training?
In some states, people that are training service dogs are allowed by state law to bring those dogs into public places for training. In some states, they aren’t. In some states, only professional dog trainers are allowed to take service dogs in training into public places. In some states, only dogs being trained for specific purposes are allowed in public, like only dogs being trained to guide people that are blind. Find out what the laws are in your state. Nothing in federal law allows people training service dogs to take those dogs into public places where pets aren’t normally allowed.
What if other customers complain about a service dog?
Explain to them that federal law gives people with disabilities the right to bring service dogs into public places where pets are usually not allowed. Federal law does not allow you to refuse to allow service dogs into your business, even if another customer is afraid of dogs or is allergic to dogs. If a customer is afraid of dogs or allergic to dogs, though, or just strongly dislikes them, they can be seated in a different part of a restaurant away from the service dog or you can open up another checkout lane so they don’t have to stand in line with the dog, or you can in some other way separate them from the dog. If a customer complains because a dog is barking or jumping up on them or doing something else inappropriate, though, you should ask the dog’s owner to remove the dog.

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