Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Access It’s the Law And It’s There for Business Owners Too

Canines for Service offers the opportunity for local business owners in the greater Wilmington, NC and Charleston, SC to receive training for themselves and their employees in service dog etiquette, including a review of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the state statute related to access by service dogs and service dogs in training.

As more service dogs are seen in the community, business owners and members of the public might have questions about what a service dog is and what access is permitted.

There are distinctions between service or guide dogs, sometimes known as assistance dogs, and therapy, emotional support or companion dogs.

A therapy, emotional support or companion dog is a pet and does not have legal access to go wherever its person goes. While many people benefit from the emotional bond a dog can provide, the U.S. Department of Justice makes it clear that emotional support and therapy dogs are not service dogs and do not have legal access.

Fully trained service dogs are governed by the Americans With Disabilities Act, which defines a service animal as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler's disability.” 

Service dogs in training are governed under state statutes. North Carolina General Statute 168 states, “An animal in training to become a service animal may be taken into any of the places listed in G.S. 168-3 for the purpose of training when the animal is accompanied by a person who is training the service animal and the animal wears a collar and leash, harness, or cape that identifies the animal as a service animal in training. The trainer shall be liable for any damage caused by the animal while using a public conveyance or on the premises of a public facility or other place.” Key to this statute are provisions that the service dog in training must be identified, must be under control of the trainer by leash or harness, and must be the only service dog in training being handled. Further, the state statute is clear that falsely representing an animal as a service dog is a class 3 misdemeanor.

As a business owner, what can you ask a person who enters your establishment?  You can ask the person if the animal is their pet.  You can also ask how the animal serves the person and the skills the dog can perform for the person. You cannot ask the person what their disability is nor can you ask for a letter, certification or identification for the service dog. Service dogs can come in all sizes and assist in many ways.

What if the animal is disruptive to my business? If the animal is disruptive, you have the right to ask the person to remove the animal. Disruptive behavior would include things like barking, growling, snapping, urinating or defecating in the establishment. 

“Canines for Service is here to provide educational services to our community about service dogs and service dog access,” said Rick Hairston, president and CEO. “More and more we are hearing of issues in our community with confusion between service and therapy dogs.  Situations like this will create problems for people who need and benefit from having a quality trained service dog.”

Canines for Service is a non-profit corporation dedicated to empowering people with disabilities to achieve greater independence. The group trains and places certified service dogs with the help of volunteer foster families, provides pet therapy certification classes and helps children in our community improve their reading skills. Since its inception in 1996, Canines for Service has provided over $7 million in services to our community. For more information, call (866) 910-3647 or visit