From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge


By Julie Reardon


…Actually, please don’t. We Americans love our pets and spending time with them, whether at home during enforced social distancing or taking them places with us. A happy outcome of this is the increased number of places we can bring them these days. But for some, it’s not enough to bring our dogs places where pets are welcome. Some insist on bringing their pets in places where dogs are forbidden by law, such as grocery stores and restaurants. An entire cottage industry of fake service dog credentials has sprung up online, where one can purchase vests, collars, leashes and even fraudulent “credentials” that allow you to take your dog places where they’re normally not allowed.

“But Fluffy is my emotional support dog,” say those who insist on taking their pet in places where dogs are forbidden by state law. Yesterday, a post on a social media group generated a firestorm of controversy because of a photo of a woman pushing a toy-sized designer breed dog in a shopping cart. Her friends and many dog lovers claimed the dog was needed for her mental health. Others were appalled that they now had to worry about a dog being in a cart when there is already widespread concern about a viral pandemic. “Now I have to worry about cleaning up whatever was on that dog’s butt in addition to COVID19?” said one irritated dog lover. Clearly, far too many are ignorant of the important distinction between an emotional support animal and a true service dog—the former is not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, while the service dog is provided for. However, in no case should a dog be placed in a food shopping cart. That’s just gross.

The Justice Department, which administers the ADA, states that no store is required to allow service animals in shopping carts. Generally, the dog must stay on the floor, although a person may carry the dog. For example, if a person with diabetes has a glucose alert dog, he may carry the dog in a chest pack so it can be close to his face to allow the dog to smell his breath to alert him of a change in glucose levels. Restaurants, bars and other places that serve food and drink are not required to allow service animals to be seated on chairs or to allow them to be fed at the table. Seating, food, and drink are provided for customer use only. The ADA gives a person with a disability the right to be accompanied by his or her service animal, but covered entities are not required to allow an animal to sit or be fed at the table.


Trained service dogs can accompany disabled handlers in most places where dogs are normally forbidden, because this is provided for under the ADA. Many people with disabilities use a service animal in order to fully participate in everyday life. Dogs can be trained to perform many important tasks to assist people with disabilities, such as providing stability for a person who has difficulty walking, picking up items for a person who uses a wheelchair, preventing a child with autism from wandering away, or alerting a person who has hearing loss when someone is approaching from behind.

The ADA requires state and local government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations that the U.S. Dept. of Justice considers covered entities (those that provide goods or services to the public) to make “reasonable modifications” in their policies, practices, or procedures when necessary to accommodate people with disabilities. The service animal rules fall under this general principle. Accordingly, entities that have a “no pets” policy generally must modify the policy to allow service animals into their facilities. However, there is no provision in the ADA for emotional support animals.

Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.  The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability, and the dog must be trained to take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability. For example, a person with diabetes may have a dog that is trained to alert him when his blood sugar reaches high or low levels. A person with depression may have a dog that is trained to remind her to take her medication. Or, a person who has epilepsy may have a dog that is trained to detect the onset of a seizure and then help the person remain safe during the seizure.

Emotional support, therapy, comfort, or companion animals are not considered service dogs covered by the ADA. These terms are used to describe animals that provide comfort just by being with a person, but there is no requirement and indeed most have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, so they don’t qualify as service animals under the ADA. Even if someone’s dog calms them when having an anxiety attack, such as from PTSD, it does not automatically qualify the dog as a service animal. The ADA makes a distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals. If the person has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog’s mere presence provides comfort, it’s not considered a service animal under the ADA.

Due to privacy rules, many staff are afraid to question those who bring their dogs complete with vests purchased online into places they’re not allowed. By law, they are only allowed to ask two specific 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 are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability. So do those who need and depend on service dogs a favor: do not purchase and use fake credentials so you can take Fluffy (or your peacock, boa constrictor or pony) in the grocery store or nail salon with you, or indeed, any place where dogs are forbidden by law for health and safety reasons. And do not claim your dog is your emotional support dog and expect access to places where service dogs are allowed.

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