Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Access, It's the Law

In a recent news story, a service dog was denied access to a local store in Castle Hayne. The sad truth is, this happens every day in our community and throughout this country irrespective of local and federal laws. There are several businesses that Carolina Canines is aware of that regularly deny access to service dogs and service dogs in training. Measures are and have been taken to educate the business owner and there staff. Sometimes those measures include legal action.

While Carolina Canines provides people with disabilities quality trained service dogs, we are also here to educate the community and business owners. Here are a few simple differences businesses owners should be aware of:

A companion dog is just that; a companion. It is a persons’ pet. And, while we love our pets, most have not been appropriately socialized and should not be allowed to accompany the owner everywhere they go.

A therapy dog is a person’s pet that has been trained to volunteer with the person in the community. These animals provide affection and comfort to many people in different environments. THIS DOG HAS NO LEGAL ACCESS and can only gain entrance to a facility by invitation. There are many organizations that train therapy dogs, but the standards of training are all different.

A service dog is one that is trained to do specific tasks for a person with a disability. The Codes of Federal Regulation for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 define a service animal as "any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair [sic], or fetching dropped items." There are some exceptions, including churches, private clubs, federal courts, military bases, and Native American tribal council offices. And, federal laws protect people with disabilities partnered with service animals from discrimination in housing, Fair Housing Amendments Act, and on aircraft, Air Carrier Access Act.

Businesses must allow service animals into their establishment. But, it is often a difficult task determining the validity of the animal entering your business. The sad reality of the ADA is identification is not mandated, many disabilities are not visible and a proprietor cannot ask if the person is disabled. The business owner can however ask what tasks the service animal provides, such as “How does the animal serve you?” And, for both business owners and people with service animals, if the animal is disruptive such as barking, growling, defecating or urinating in the business, the establishment has every right to ask the person to remove the service animal.

The reality is countless individuals are perpetrating crimes by falsely accessing local businesses with their “pocket” pets or other animals. This is a violation of federal law, the ADA, and North Carolina state statues; both violations punishable by law. Worst yet, it makes it more and more difficult for people with legitimate service animals to have the access they indeed need to live independent lives.

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