A Publication of WTVP

Despite municipal ordinances banning animals from some public establishments, federal law allows service dogs to accompany their owners to any public premises as long as they behave themselves, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Establishment owners who deny them entry can be hit with as much as a $55,000 fine. They may only ask two questions: Is the service animal required because of a disability? What work or task has the dog been trained to perform? They cannot refuse the animal because of dislike or allergy, or isolate those with service dogs from other patrons.

As long as the dog is non-disruptive and acts consistent with a trained animal, there is no legal alternative, and no service vest or identifying insignia or certificates are required. The only exceptions involve common-sense rules: for example, it's lawful to prohibit a service animal in a hospital operating room because of the threat to cleanliness.

I've personally been denied access in many public establishments, despite having a legitimate service animal. In other cases, the proprietor has offered to seat me away from other patrons. Both are ADA violations—and both can lead to costly consequences.

My advice to any public establishment—from convenience stores to restaurants, schools and sports complexes—is to err on the side of federal law and admit anyone who has a service animal as long as they can answer the two questions. If, however, the dog misbehaves—making noise, acting aggressively, urinating/defecating or otherwise disturbing others, the owner/operator can lawfully request its removal (but must allow the patron to return, sans animal). Scores of people like me have come to rely on service animals as an integral part of their lives, well-being and ultimately, recovery. Businesses that violate the ADA will likely find themselves at the wrong end of a hefty fine. It's not a gamble I would take as the owner of a public venue. iBi