Recently, while entering an area notary, I was stopped by a patron at the door and told no dogs allowed. I politely informed the woman that this was a service dog, and she had her badge on. Her reply was that this was not true.
I offered her a card with my dog's details along with the federal law printed on the reverse side. She declined but continued to make comments while walking to her car. Perhaps I should not have followed her, but I wanted to give her a card to inform her of the law for future reference. She refused the card but continued with her remarks.
Contrary to what she told me, all service dogs must be allowed In all facilities, whether she thinks it is OK or not.
The federal law states:
"Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets.
"The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person's disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.
"This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of 'assistance animal' under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of 'service animal' under the Air Carrier Access Act."
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. Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animal's work or the individual's disability prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.
"When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about 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 to perform the work or task.
"Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, for example, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.
"A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal's presence. Establishments that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
"People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated from other patrons, treated less favorably than other patrons, or charged fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals. In addition, if a business requires a deposit or fee to be paid by patrons with pets, it must waive the charge for service animals.
"If a business such as a hotel normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may also be charged for damage caused by himself or his service animal.
"Staff are not required to provide care or food for a service animal."
Although under this law, I am not required to provide any documentation, I carry a card verifying she is a service dog under the ADA Act as well as a badge on her leash and/or coat.
Many people are under the misconception that a service dog must be a large animal. This is not the case. Although most visually impaired people do use a larger dog, many of us use smaller dogs for whatever reason. Small service dogs are being used to help children and adults with diabetes, MS, abused children and adults dealing with various mental and emotional issues and a multitude of other not so easily seen medical conditions.
As a fellow human being, no one has the right – and would be breaking federal law – to ask about a person's disability or reasoning for needing such an animal.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Since having my service for over two years I can honestly say that very few people have given me a hard time. Most people are in awe of what these service dogs can do. If you kindly ask first, some of us will allow you to pet our dog. I, for one, want my dog to feel comfortable enough to go to anyone nearby to get me help. I am thrilled when parents of sick small children ask about my dog, see how well their child takes to a smaller dog and now know there is hope for their child to become more independent.
Life can be difficult enough when living with a life-changing condition. We need the public to be educated about the various types of service animals available. These invaluable dogs have saved many lives and made people more independent. Additionally, the cost is in the several to tens of thousands of dollars to train or purchase a service dog.
Before you so cruelly accost a person with a service dog, think what would you do if you were in their shoes. I do hope and pray you never find yourself in that position. I never thought I would.
Use the encounter to become properly educated. To learn more about service dogs, please visit: ADA.gov