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Service Animal Accommodation Clarified

March 9, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Photo courtesy of the Service Animal Registry of America website.

Editor’s Note: This week’s issue of Wednesday Morning Coffee Talk & Updates from the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) provides some important information for RV park and campground owners regarding new United States Department of Justice amendments to its regulations implementing Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These regulations apply to public accommodations (private businesses that fall within one of 12 categories established by the statute) and commercial facilities.

As part of the 2010 Standards listed above, new rules regarding service animals go into effect March 15, 2011. Know and understand the difference between “Service Animals” and “Companion Animals.” Understand your requirements and your rights under the new ADA regulations.

ADA Service Animal Summary

A service animal is not a pet. A service animal is defined as a dog (with very limited exceptions) which has been trained to perform work or tasks and provide assistance to a person with a disability. “No pet” and breed limitation policies do not apply to these dogs. Businesses are required to make reasonable accommodations for people who are disabled, and for their service animal if they use one.

It’s not always obvious when a guest is attended by a service dog as opposed to bringing in a pet. How are you to determine if your policies are being disregarded by a pet owner who can be asked to leave? The new ADA regulation does offer some clear guidance:

  • You cannot ask for certification or licensing. Some states, like California, do have service animal certification programs, but the ADA does not require certification as part of the service animal definition
  • You can ask, inoffensively, if the animal is required for a disability and if so, what tasks is the animal trained to perform. The tasks the animal is trained to perform must directly relate to the handlers disability, not emotional support or comfort. Companion animals are still considered pets.

When does the accommodation become unreasonable? A handler must have complete control of the service animal on a physical leash, harness or tether if such would not interfere with the tasks the animal may need to perform. A service animal must be housebroken. If a service animal’s behavior gets out of control, presents an actual threat to others, or behaves as if not housebroken and the handler cannot regain control, then you can exclude the service animal.

Now, what about violations and penalties? If you are notified by the Department of Justice for possible violations of ADA regulations, do not ignore it! Enforcement can include a comprehensive compliance plan and ongoing staff training, and it can include compensatory damages and civil penalties. As for fraudulently claiming service animal need, that is a misdemeanor which can include a fine of up to $2,500 and/or with intent, a possible six months in jail.

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