By Nancy Sommers
Most of us understand the benefits of animals in our lives whether we choose to have them or not.
Yet, there is a growing social problem affecting businesses and professionals that deal with the public and this is particularly true in places where pets are generally not allowed.
There is no way for the public to decipher the differences between emotional support animals and service animals until the laws are changed.
Emotional support animals are not temperament tested nor trained to the standard to which service dogs are held. Add to this the confusion of existing loopholes in the laws, and the result is an increase of untrained dogs in public.
The Americans with Disabilities Act states, “A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The tasks performed must be directly related to the person’s disability.”
For example, a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert them when their insulin reaches high or low levels. Or an individual with epilepsy may have a dog that is trained to detect the seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure.
An emotional support animal is not considered a service dog under the ADA. They are animals used to provide comfort or companionship where there may be an emotional need. They have value and a place, but ESAs can be a variety of animals and not specifically a dog. If they happen to be a dog they may have some training, but not to perform a specific job or task.
This information has been confusing for those with ESAs but, as a business professional, you do not have to be confused.
The ADA has determined there are only two questions business entities are allowed to ask their patrons when attempting to navigate these uncomfortable situations:
1. “Is this a service dog required for a disability?”
2. “What work or task is the dog trained to perform?”
As it currently stands, the language varies on a federal level and across all state and local governments. What this means is the Department of Justice has a civil rights policy under the ADA that governs what questions businesses are permitted to ask, as described above.
But there are other important government agencies that matter to service dog descriptions that have exposed weak links, allowing fraud and confusion to enter the scene.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Fair Housing Act as well as the Department of Transportation and the Air Carriers Access Act each provide varying definitions of service dogs and confuse the protective civil rights mandate of the ADA when they reference emotional support animals as service animals.
• Nancy Sommers is a business owner and service dog authority who lives in Camarillo.