Top 3 Questions Regarding Service and Emotional Support Animals in Your Business

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on September 19, 2019 6:55 AM

You've probably seen someone walking with a service dog at some point. But emotional support squirrels might be new to you. So too, emotional support pigs. And you may not be familiar with therapy kangaroos. Therapy kangaroos? Yes, therapy kangaroos.

The expanding zoology of service, therapy, and emotional support animals can put small business owners in a bind. You want to be as accommodating as possible, especially to any customers that may have disabilities. But at what point does your business become a petting zoo? And what about health codes that regulate the services you provide? So, here are the biggest questions, and some answers, for small business owners when it comes to allowing or banning service and emotional support animals.

1. What's the Difference Between Support Animals and Service Animals?

An animal is an animal, right? Well, not according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA regulates accommodation for disabled persons in employment, transportation, and public accommodations. And under Department of Justice guidance, only dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with an ADA-approved physical, mental, or emotional disability are legally protected as service animals. All other animals, despite the emotional benefits they may provide their owners, are considered pets.

2. Is It Legal to Ask for Service Dog Papers?

So, how do you verify whether a dog is properly trained and the owner has an actual disability? You can't, really. The ADA has ruled that employees at a business "are not allowed to request any documentation" for a purported service dog. While business owners can legally ask if the animal is a service dog animal required because of a disability, certification isn't necessary for an animal to be a service animal, and disabled people are not required to carry documentation of their medical conditions or disabilities. So, paperwork cannot be a condition for allowing a service animal in.

3. Legal to Ban a Customer's Service Animal?

Unless a specific service animal has indicated it will be a danger to the business or other customers, they must be permitted to accompany their owners. And this danger must be based on certain facts, like growling or snarling, and not on general suspicion of an animal. So even blanket "no pets" prohibitions must give way to service animals, unless the animal poses an injury risk.

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