Is the Americans with Disabilities Act being abused by some pet owners and “lovers”? Should businesses have more pet-friendly policies to avoid potential discrimination claims, or should the ADA laws require licensure of service animals?

Myrtle Beach, SC, Orlando, FL February 23, 2016

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-The Americans with Disabilities Act appears to have been abused by those pretending to require a service dog just so they can have their beloved pet by their side whether in a store, restaurant, or somewhere else where dogs are not allowed. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is a federal crime to use a dog under false pretenses and many states have laws against pet owners who would misrepresent their pet as a service dog.

Under the Disability laws, privacy protection is afforded service dog owners, so it is easy for a dog cheat to bypass the law and represent their pet as a service dog, which has those who truly are disabled and require the services of assistive animals worried about their own privacy and the safety of their service dogs. Business owners are concerned as well with health and damage issues caused by fake service dogs.

Most businesses already have pet-friendly policies in place and are reluctant to question those with possible phony service animals for fear of claims of discrimination and lawsuits. In addition, no licensing type of documentation is legally required for legitimate service dogs, so people who want to take their pets with them disguised as service animals can pretty much do so without recrimination. The law simply states that anyone who enters a business with a service animal can only be asked whether the animal is a service dog and how it has been trained to be of help to the owner.

ADA officials are now looking into ways to differentiate between real and fake service animals and have even attempted to get the Justice Department involved to possibly make the disability laws more prosecutable, but there is not total agreement as to whether the privacy sections of the law should be changed or the whole process should simply be abandoned. Corey Hudson, president of an association of training schools, Assistance Dogs International, has notified the government concerning intervention with the issue but has not received the answers he needs. He is attempting to start a real conversation on the problem but knows there are obstacles to be overcome.

Many other advocates, including Joan Froling, chairperson of the IAADP (International Association of Assistance Dog Partners), dislike the idea of everyday pet owners using their dogs as an excuse to join the ranks of the disabled and utilize the benefits that disabled individuals with assistive animals receive. At the same time, Froling is cautious of the kind of backlash that could occur because of the whole issue being brought to the forefront.

Even if new laws are put in place to prevent everyday pet owners from turning their dogs into assistive animals, the dog police will be overwhelmed with arrests, but with so many instances of pet owners abusing the disability laws concerning service animals, maybe it is time for licensing procedures to be put in place. Those abusing the law need to be cautiously identified and prosecuted. No one has the right to take their so-called assistive pets wherever they go while benefiting off the backs of the truly disabled.

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-It’s a fact of human nature that whenever a law or rule is enacted, a small minority of scofflaws will ignore the law or attempt to circumvent it one way or another. In most cases, the consequences aren’t that crucial to anyone other than the scofflaw. For example, a jaywalker crosses against the traffic light when no cars are present, or a driver greatly exceeds the speed limit on a deserted road. Each is risking only his or her safety and not necessarily putting someone else at risk.

However, willfully breaking other laws for convenience or callous disregard may have consequences for someone other than the scofflaw. If a man is walking his dog in a public park, disregards the local leash laws, and lets the dog run free, that dog may attack someone else and inflict physical or perhaps mental injury to an innocent bystander. Breaking laws like this should not be tolerated.

With scofflaws who use the ADA rules as a cover to bring their non-qualified dogs into public places that otherwise don’t allow dogs, the situation becomes murky. True service dogs who are well trained and properly controlled by their handler should pose no attack risk. But if someone in that restaurant or other public place is violently allergic to dogs, should they be put at risk unnecessarily thanks to a scofflaw bringing his dog into proximity with that allergic person?

The answer is “No.” Therefore, I believe licensing and or registration of service animals should be mandated (as much as I detest adding more laws to our overly litigious society), for the sake of both parties. The world is a crowded place, and everyone has the right to occupy public places in a legal manner as well as the right to be treated fairly.

The handicapped person with a service dog should be allowed to bring her dog anywhere in public that is practicable and reasonable under the law. Moreover, the allergic person has the right to be in the same public place without being subject to any more dog allergens than those from legitimate service dogs.

Licensing of service animals will guarantee equal rights to both parties and avoid if not eliminate unnecessary litigation if a scofflaw’s illegitimate service animal causes harm to another individual.

Sheffield, Jamaica Correspondent-In a recent article read online, published on the NewYorker, it was made quite obvious that some pet owners are using their animals as escape routes, claiming they need them emotionally. This is the truth for some, but others are jumping on the bandwagon and abusing service animals. Though the Americans with Disabilities Act caters for those who are disabled (such as a visually impaired person who might need the assistance of a dog), I fear that those who are in good health, mentally and physically, are abusing such laws, claiming that they need these animals when in fact they don’t. As a consequence of these propagated lies, people are now allowed to travel on planes with their dogs, forcing others to endure odor and dog poop.

In my opinion, once an individual needs to have their service dogs with them for warranted reasons, and are licensed, businesses should allow these ones entry. However, if these individuals are only able to make claims, businesses should take strict actions. Where I come from, animals do not mix well with food. Hence, this should be dealt with strictly and not lightly. However, there are some instances where animals face discrimination. In solemn situations as this, the ADA should take actions to ensure things are fair and just. These policies should be made to combat such discrimination

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-I come at this issue on two fronts. First, as a former chef and restauranteur, the issue of service animals in restaurants is one of health and sanitation. Properly trained, legitimate service animals are welcome in food-service establishments because they’ve been taught not to wander, not to urinate or defecate indoors and to otherwise not disrupt other diners or present a greater health issue than the people eating around them. A properly trained service animal is no more threat to the health and safety of fellow diners than a messy toddler or overly exuberant (or overserved) adult.

However, these “emotional support” animals, etc., whose only training comes from their owners and which can range from hedgehogs and cats to turkeys and parrots, are a menace. In my opinion, a line needs to be drawn between service animals and support animals. The training a guide dog or seizure dog receives makes him welcome anywhere, but that “hug turkey” you’re carrying around is going to result in me shutting down my dining room for a full cleaning after it goes berserk and starts table-hopping.

The more media-facing side of this issue is the airline one. Here, I’m going to be a complete hypocrite and side with the critter-toters. The airline industry in this country has waged war on its consumers, with an ever-more-Byzantine network of fees and rates designed to milk the maximum possible lucre out of the flying public. On this issue, I see the lunatic woman who needs turkey therapy as striking a blow for freedom and raising a fist against the corporate tyranny of the legacy carriers.

American, Delta and the rest have built this bed, and if they have to share it with hedgehogs, turkeys, rabbits, pygmy goats or any other livestock which the weepy and damaged find necessary to keep them on an even keel, so be it. Are people lying and printing out sham certifications to get their animals free passage? Absolutely. Do I have any sympathy for the airlines on this? Not even a shred. They treat the flying public like cattle to be herded, so let the livestock fly!

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