Originally Published: February 15, 2016 6:02 a.m.
It's not uncommon these days to see dogs in grocery stores and restaurants. It's also not unusual to wonder, "Is it legal for that dog to be in this grocery store (or restaurant)?"Most people are aware that service dogs are allowed in such establishments. Service dogs are animals that have been specially trained to assist people who are vision impaired, hearing impaired, have seizures, mobility issues, autism, and more. They perform a valuable service and allow their owners a level of freedom they wouldn't otherwise have. That's why they are protected by federal law against discrimination.However, the laws protecting service dogs may be so broad they invite abuse. Many of the dogs you see in stores and restaurants may not be service dogs and present potential problems for the owners of the establishments. In addition to creating a possible unhealthy environment around food, untrained dogs can cause damage to merchandise and threaten to attack when they encounter legitimate service dogs. However, business owners can't legally ask people to remove their dog from the premises.According to the Americans With Disabilities Act website, "In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person's disability."Senate Bill 1166 currently being considered in the Arizona Legislature would make it a crime to violate the rights of someone with a service dog. It would also amend existing law to allow businesses to remove a dog that is unruly, not housebroken or not on a leash.Perhaps another solution would be to amend the ADA to require certification for trained service dogs and to allow staff at a business to ask for documentation that the animal is indeed a legitimate service dog.The rights of service dogs and the people they help need to be protected, but they and the general public also have a right to be protected from people who simply like to take their pets everywhere they go, regardless of health and safety considerations. - Jim Painter, News EditorFollow Jim Painter on Facebook at FB.me/jimpainterprescott. Reach him at 928-445-3333, Ext. 2035, 928-642-0560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.