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How to Handle Customers’ Service Animals

On Tuesday afternoon a customer walks in your restaurant with his giant Deerhound and starts ordering lunch for both of them. The waitress, surprised and unsure about this arrangement, asks her supervisor if the customer needs to leave because of the “no pets allowed” policy.

May the supervisor promptly show the dog and his owner to the door? Not if the dog is a service animal. Any business establishment open to the public must allow its disabled customers’ service animals to be admitted to the same areas as other customers as provided under federal and California law.

A service animal is defined as any dog (and, under federal law, a miniature horse) that is individually trained to do work or performs tasks for the disabled individual’s benefit, such as protection and rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.

If it’s not already evident why the person needs the service animal, then the public entity may ask these two questions: (1) whether the animal is required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task the animal has been trained to do. The business may not ask about the nature or extent of the disability, for any training documentation, or for a demonstration of the animal’s trained tasks.

However, the service animal must be under the handler’s control at all times (e.g. a harness, leash, voice control and/or signals). If not, and the owner does not take effective action, or the animal is not sufficiently housebroken, then the public entity may remove them.

A business accepting a service animal onto the premises is not responsible for its care or supervision. Additionally, if other individuals are normally charged for the damage they incur, then the business may charge the disabled individual for damage caused by the service animal.

All businesses open to the general public should modify their policies and practices to permit the use of a service animal on their premises, which includes modifying any policy that blanketly prohibits animals from entry.

California businesses failing to comply with these provisions may be found guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $2500.

For further information, please contact Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

See also:

Cindy Bamforth

May 24, 2018