Even if you are not a dog lover, you can probably still appreciate the skills trainers can teach a dog. Beyond basic obedience and circus tricks, a dog can learn to perform valuable services for humans, especially those with illnesses or injuries that leave them disabled. For many, having a dog means regaining mobility, independence and opportunities. For others, a well-trained dog can protect them from harm and allow them to live a normal life.
However, how does all this relate to you as a business owner, particularly if you are in the food services industry? Health and safety laws forbid you from allowing dogs in your restaurant, but those laws do not always apply when it comes to service dogs.
Your obligations to those with service dogs
The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law that outlines the basic accommodations business owners and others must make for those with disabilities. The ADA may have compelled you to widen the doorways in your establishment, add a ramp to your entrance or make other changes. The ADA also requires you to admit service dogs to your restaurant. To fully comply with this regulation, it may help you to understand some specifics about service dogs, including:
- A service dog is specially trained to perform a specific function for one person, including guiding someone who is visually impaired or retrieving objects for someone in a wheelchair.
- A service dog may be any breed, so local breed restrictions do not apply.
- You must permit a service dog to go anywhere in your establishment where customers may go.
- Some service dogs assist people who do not have visible handicaps, such as those who have panic attacks or post-traumatic stress episodes.
- You may ask a customer to remove a service dog that causes a disturbance or behaves aggressively toward your other customers.
- Service dogs are different from emotional support animals, which are not necessarily dogs, and are not specifically trained and not recognized by the ADA's guidelines.
You may not require a customer to show proof that a dog is a service animal, but you may ask if the dog performs a service and what the service is. The customer does not have to show you how the dog performs the task or explain his or her disability.
California and other states have accommodation requirements that go beyond the ADA, so you would be wise to seek legal advice about which animals you may and may not turn away from your establishment. The advice of an attorney can also be of benefit if you face accusations of violating the ADA by refusing entrance to an animal.