Frank, the store manager, didn’t realize there was a dog in the grocery store until he heard the barking. He had been in his back office when the barking started. Frank went out into the store to investigate what was going on. The scene he saw was troubling. There was a small dog riding in the grocery cart, barking, while one of his employees was telling the woman with the dog that they had to leave the store. The woman was getting upset and raising her voice, curtly responding to the employee that the dog was a “service dog” and that she would sue the store if they tried to make her leave. Frank knew he had to intervene but wasn’t exactly sure what to do. Was the woman right? Was she legally allowed to have her dog in the shopping cart?

Susan was thrilled after receiving her Hearing Dog from Dogs for Better Lives. She felt more confident and secure with him accompanying her out in public. When visiting her favorite park near her home, the park staff confronted her and said she couldn’t be there with her dog. After much questioning about proof of her dog’s certification, finally the staff member begrudgingly relented yet still did not acknowledge Susan’s right to be there with her Hearing Dog. In fact, just the opposite, she rudely suggested that although Assistance Dogs are permitted, their presence might affect the wildlife in the park and therefore Susan might want to go to another park with her Hearing Dog. Didn’t the law protect Susan’s right to be there?
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While the life-changing impact these dogs have on the people who need them is indisputable, the laws regarding Assistance Dogs, and the interpretations of such laws, is not quite as straightforward.
Unfortunately, situations like these are all too common. While the life-changing impact these dogs have on the people who need them is indisputable, the laws regarding Assistance Dogs, and the interpretations of such laws, is not quite as straightforward. It has become increasingly difficult to distinguish the true Assistance Dogs from the fake ones. This leaves both business owners and people with disabilities in a challenging predicament.

On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law (www.dol.gov). The law was enacted to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. “Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.” (www.ada.gov)

With the protections provided in the ADA, a person with a disability could utilize the services of an Assistance Dog in stores, hotels, restaurants, etc., without fear of being denied access. In 2010, the ADA was revised to better clarify some of the language and definitions pertaining to Assistance Dogs. Originally the ADA referred to “service animals”; however, on March 15, 2011 only dogs are recognized While the life-changing impact these dogs have on the people who need them is indisputable, the laws regarding Assistance Dogs, and the interpretations of such laws, is not quite as straightforward. as “service animals” under titles I and II of the ADA and defined this way: “A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.”

Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.” (www.ada.gov)
Since a person’s disability is a protected class, it is unlawful to ask someone with an Assistance Dog directly about their disability. However it is permissible to ask two direct questions: 1) whether the dog is a service dog and 2) what specific task the dog is trained to perform. If, for example, the handler states that their dog helps with anxiety yet does not identify a trained task that the dog performs, then that would not qualify as an Assistance Dog. This is important for business owners to understand. Asking directly about a person’s disability or for some sort of license or certification to prove the dog is an Assistance Dog is not lawful under the ADA, but verifying that the dog has been task-trained to help with a disability is completely within the law. In fact this helps to ensure that dogs entering the business are the trained professional working dogs whose access is granted under the law.

Another critical piece of public access rights is the fact that the dog must be under control. If a dog is behaving in a way that is not under control of the handler, it is absolutely legal to ask the person to remove the dog from the premises. The key component in distinguishing an Assistance Dog from a pet or therapy dog is the trained task. The evidence of that task training is often reflected in the overall controlled, obedient behavior of the dog. If not, and the dog is not exhibiting professional behavior, the dog is not appropriate for public places and therefore the business owner has the right to ask that the dog leave. Therefore, with the situation in the grocery store and the dog riding in the cart and barking, the store employee was completely within the legal limits of the law to ask that woman to remove the dog from the cart and, because of the uncontrollable barking, from the store as well. However, in the case of Susan and her Hearing Dog, what the park employee was suggesting was against the ADA law. Susan and her Hearing Dog had the legal right to go to that park, regardless of any perceived negative impact the dog’s presence may have had on wildlife.

In summary, the services that trained dogs can provide to assist people with disabilities are tremendous. When working with an Assistance Dog, a person’s life is better. Protecting the rights of people with disabilities who utilize and benefit from Assistance Dogs so they can’t be denied access or services is imperative. However more education for business owners and the general public is needed in order to prevent the unlawful presence of fake Assistance Dogs in public. By knowing what two questions are permissible to ask and how to verify that a dog is indeed a trained Assistance Dog, business owners can “Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.” (www.ada.gov) help enforce the law as it was intended, allowing people with disabilities, and the dogs that have been trained to help them, equal access and opportunity.


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Emily Minah is a Client Services Field Representative with Dogs for Better Lives, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization focusing on the training and placing of Hearing Assistance Dogs, Autism Assistance Dogs, and Facility Dogs. Accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI) and recognized by Charity Navigator as a 4-star nonprofit, Dogs for Better Lives has been rescuing dogs, bettering lives, and providing Assistance Dogs since 1977. www.dogsforbetterlives.org. For more information please contact info@dogsforbetterlives.org.
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The Chamber of Medford/Jackson County
101 E. 8th St.  |  Medford, OR 97501
Phone: (541) 779-4847
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Balancing The Rights Of Assistance Dogs In Public, Whose Business Is It?
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