PRESCOTT - Pamela and Gregg McKinley are "absolutely thrilled" the American Disabilities Act rules this week were clarified to specify such dogs cannot be placed in shopping carts.
"This is a major step for the ADA. We're extremely proud," said Pamela McKinley whose husband, an Operation Desert Storm veteran, has a trained service dog, Seth, a Dutch Shepherd mix.
The U.S. Department of Justice released this week a new technical assistance document entitled "Frequently Asked Questions About Service Animals and the ADA." It is in that document that it is made clear that service animals are not allowed in shopping carts.
This document is intended to clarify questions about the official ADA requlations related to service animals. Title III of the ADA laws is the one that pertains to service animals.
The new FAQ ¬_ specifically Question 31 _ states that stores are not required to allow service animals in shopping carts. Another question relates to the protocol for restaurants, bars and other eateries. The document also specifies other particulars for service animals, including that service animals are allowed in restaurants, bars and other such places but must remain on the floor and cannot be seated at the table.
McKinley and other disability advocates say these clarifications of a law that some say is vague enough to result in misinterpretation is aimed less at those with legitimate service dogs than those who simply want to bring their beloved pet with them everywhere they go.
"My husband and I have experienced a lot of problems with fake service dogs in the area, usually in grocery stores,' McKinley said. "They will start barking from the carts and distract my husband's service dog whose job is to provide a sense of protection and a bubble around my husband."
Yavapai County Health Department Public Information Officer David McAtee reiterated McKinley's viewpoint that these regulations are aimed more at protecting against those who are not qualified for a service dog.
McAtee said his office gets at least one call a week from someone who spotted a dog in a shopping cart at one of the local chain supermarkets. Ninety percent of those eligible to have service dogs know the ADA rules, and keep their dogs by their side. This update may help limit abuses, he agreed.
Whiskers Barkery Co-Owner Donna Holich and service dog trainer Andy Lloyd of Dandy Dawgs Service Dog Program conducted a seminar at the Gurley Street business on Wednesday, July 15. About 30 people attended the program Holich and Lloyd said was intended to set the record straight on service dogs.
They strived to inform people about the ADA restrictions because they and other advocates for persons with disabilities do not want to see hard-earned rights eroded by those who simply seek a convenience. And businesses deserve clarity on when it is appropriate to ask someone to leave, they and the audience agreed.
Guide dogs for the blind may be obvious, but Lloyd said the ADA regulations have expanded over the last 25 years to include disabilities that are more invisible, including post-traumatic stress disorder patients. The only questions that can be asked of someone is whether their service dog is required because of a disability and what tasks the dog performs for the individual.
People with disabilities never need to disclose anything about their condition, Lloyd said.
Some people may confuse service dogs with emotional-support dogs, or therapy dogs. ADA protections are solely for service dogs, one trained to performs particular tasks to help the owner cope with their disability, such things as balance, hearing or seizure prevention.
Emotional-support dogs can be allowed on airplanes and can live with someone in rental housing, but if those dogs do not perform daily tasks, a doctor's note must be provided to explain the dog's presence. Such dogs are not allowed in public establishments.
Business owners say the lack of specificity in the law, and the inability to ask an individual about their particular disability, can prompt confusion, contribute to fraud, and lead to angry patrons.
The ADA also does not require service animals to wear a particular vest or collar identification, Lloyd said.
Local restauranteurs Barry Barbe and Roxanne Nielsen said the legal murkiness is a challenge for them.
Nielsen said she was recently forced to ban a patron who confronted another guest about their dog.
It is a federal crime to falsify a service dog, Lloyd said. But public confrontations rarely benefit the accuser, she said. If there is a question about whether or not someone has a legitimate service dog, the concerned person should notify the manager and let them handle the matter, she said.
McKinley said the disability community is the most conscientious about assuring service dogs follow proper protocols.
She said she and her husband never leave home without their dog, but always strive to be respectful to others. More specific regulations may be needed in the future, but McKinley sees this as a step in the right direction.
For more information about the American Disabilities Act regulations related to service animals, visit the ADA website: www.ADA.gov. Title III includes the section related to service animals.