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Service animals a different breed from others

Service dogs perform a task.
Service dogs are allowed in stores of all kinds.

Sun Advocate publisher

In some public places, it is rare for people to see animals. Grocery stores and restaurants are two examples where animal sightings are scarce.

But there are times when service animals, particularly dogs, are allowed in areas where food is sold or served. That is when they are considered to be a certified service animal.

"Service dogs have a whole different level of training and meet certain requirements that most other dogs can't meet, no matter how well behaved they are," said Nancy Bentley, director of Active ReEntry in Carbon County. "And people need to know that it is illegal to (mis)represent any dog that is not a trained service dog as one."

Last week, the Sun Advocate reported on problems some places are having with dogs being brought into public places by their owners. Grocery stores are one of the areas where normal dogs are not allowed.

Dogs basically fall into three categories when it comes to whether they can be allowed into a store. The first is the family pet, which - no matter how well trained - can still be a problem. There are many temptations for a regular dog in a food store.

The second category is therapy dogs. Therapy dogs are often used by people for comfort or companionship. They don't perform a task, but instead give their owner some kind of respite.

In the last session of the legislature, State Senator Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, sponsored a bill which removed such animals from being within the definition of a "service animal." Two years earlier, a bill was introduced to make therapy dogs part of the service dog allowance, but problems had arisen with people bringing such dogs and other animals into places such as airplanes and trax trains. The bill passed and Governor Huntsman signed it on March 20.

A service dog is a different kind of animal than a therapy dog because it completes an action that the owner can't do.

"They need to be able to do something for someone who can't do it like open a door or get something for them," said Bentley. "But they also have to be well-mannered as well. These dogs have to go through a 33 point test before they are credentialed. And they have to want to be around people."

A few years ago, there was a man in a wheelchair who tooled around town with his service dog, a golden retriever named Opie. That dog performed many tasks for the man, but it also broke the ice in a lot of situations for him because it behaved in such as loving way.

"I have heard a lot of people that need service dogs say that the dog breaks down barriers for them with other people," said Bentley. "Sometimes a wheelchair can be like a wall between someone who is disabled and someone who is able-bodied. But a dog like Opie is an opening for a conversation, a way to break the ice."

But even a dog like Opie can't always keep people from being upset about dogs being allowed to be in food establishments. According to management at a local grocery store, Opie used to come in the store while his owner shopped, and people got upset even though the situation was apparent to them. Such an objection may come from an individual's actual fear of dogs or may arise from a previous bad experience with an animal. The change in Utah law that allowed only certified service dogs to be permitted in food areas more than likely originated from irresponsible owners taking dogs that weren't fully trained into complicated situations.

"We lose rights to something because we don't take the time and the care to clean up after them or we don't show responsibility," said Bentley. "I like the way the National Federation for the Blind handles it. Even the blind can't get an animal through them until the person can show responsibility for the dog."

But these dogs are becoming more and more common. And the numbers of people who need them grow every day.

"I get five to six calls every month from people who want a service dog," said Bentley. "But they just aren't available."

There are only a few training facilities throughout the country that provide the dogs and they are in high demand. The key to good service dogs is to have them trained to do a task and then according to Bentley to "socialize, socialize, socialize, and then socialize more."

The law on service dogs is very clear. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. This federal law applies to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis, shuttles, grocery or department stores, hospitals, medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks, and zoos.

•Businesses may ask if an animal is a service animal or ask which tasks the animal has been trained to perform, but cannot require special ID cards for the animal or ask about the person's disability. 

•People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be charged extra fees, be isolated from other patrons, or be treated less favorably than other patrons. However, if a business such as a hotel normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may be charged for damage caused by his or her service animal. 

•A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the animal is out of control and the animal's owner does not take effective action to control it (for example, a dog that barks repeatedly during a movie) or (2) the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. In these cases, the business should give the person with the disability the option to obtain goods and services without having the animal on the premises. 

•Businesses that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises. 

•A business is not required to provide care or food for a service animal or provide a special location for it to relieve itself. 

•Allergies and fear of animals are generally not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people with service animals.

Editors note: This is the second of two articles on service animals in public places.

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