During the middle of a business rush, someone walks in with their dog. A small child is in the building and becomes frightened of the animal. Their parent comes to the rescue of their child and requests the removal of the canine due to the safety concerns. The animal is wearing a vest, is behaving calmly, and the patron additionally produces a service handler identification. Having knowledge of business operations regarding service animals can prevent any potential future backlash.

What Is a Service Animal?

The Americans with Disabilities Act governs many service animal concerns and defines a service animal as any animal that performs a function or a task that the handler is unable to perform due to a disability. The mental image that most commonly comes to mind is a guide dog for someone who is blind, yet dogs and other service animals can provide a multitude of other services due to their high levels of intelligence. Examples of service animal assistance include:

  • Alerting a handler with hearing impairments to sounds;
  • Pulling a wheelchair;
  • Carrying or picking up items for someone with mobility disabilities; and
  • Assisting with emotional stability for someone with a mental ailment.

The Legal Answer

According to the ADA, businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. The federal statute applies to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis and shuttles, grocery and department stores, hospitals and medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks, and zoos. Such animals are not “pets”, they are trained working animals. Therefore, any posted pet restrictions for the establishment do not apply and should be altered to compensate for service animals.

Can Service Animals Be Prohibited or Removed?

In the hypothetical situation of the service animal and the child being scared, the answer is no; the animal can not be asked to leave. Additionally, they may not be called upon to leave or denied service even if someone has an allergy. If this is the case and the two must spend an extended amount of time together, reasonable accommodations must be made to both patrons. Other guidelines include:

  • Many service animals have a vest or collar identification, but it is not required, nor is it required that the animal is tethered or otherwise harnessed. The only requirement to this is that the animal is under control, even if that control is verbal or visual;
  • A formal request for the removal of the animal is legal if the animal is not able to be controlled or is not housebroken, in which case service must still be offered in such a way that the animal is not required; and
  • The only questions that may be asked are if the animal is a service animal for a disability and what the life task is that the animal performs. It is not legal to ask about the disability or for a display of certifications.

The laws surrounding service animals are in-depth and extensive. With the broad array of qualifications for each category of services animals can perform, it is beneficial to discuss this topic with an experienced business lawyer. Doing this before an issue arises may prevent future legal headaches. If you are interested in speaking with a proven San Jose, CA business attorney, contact The Law Offices of Steven E. Springer today at 408-779-4700 to schedule a 20 minute free initial consultation. To better serve our clients, we also have offices in Morgan Hill and Fremont.


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