Service Animals: Yes, You Do Have to Let Them in Whether You Like it or Not.

Full disclosure? I think that people who try to turn away people with service animals are assholes. Major assholes. Special place in Hell assholes. I am also not so stupid, rigid, or naïve as to think that there aren’t special circumstances, as in the rare unruly service animal causing a real problem, that should constitute an exception. I guess I chalk it up to basic common courtesy with no special exceptions for the disabled or otherwise disadvantaged. If you let your kid, your drunk spouse, or your service animal poop on the floor, scream a lot, or attack someone, you’re out of there!

Now that we got that out of the way… The McDonalds pit bull PR faux pas has spawned a flurry of stories about much more serious real life incidents of discrimination by McDonalds against people with disabilities and their service animals, sick children and their companions, and pit bulls in general. This isn’t new. There were stories before. Sometimes it is individuals who happen to work at McDonalds committing these crimes (including assault, not just discrimination), rather than company policy.

McDonalds aside, maybe some of you need to know the law on this. It’s actually very, very simple. Just like you can’t keep people out based on their race, ugliness, or bad haircut, you can’t bar service animals from your establishment. This is from the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section, Commonly Asked Questions:
1. Q: What are the laws that apply to my business?

A: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed.

2. Q: What is a service animal?

A: The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.

5. Q: I have always had a clearly posted “no pets” policy at my establishment. Do I still have to allow service animals in?

A: Yes. A service animal is not a pet…

6. Q: My county health department has told me that only a guide dog has to be admitted. If I follow those regulations, am I violating the ADA?

A: Yes, if you refuse to admit any other type of service animal on the basis of local health department regulations or other state or local laws. The ADA provides greater protection for individuals with disabilities and so it takes priority over the local or state laws or regulations.

10. Q: What if a service animal barks or growls at other people, or otherwise acts out of control?

A: You may exclude any animal, including a service animal, from your facility when that animal’s behavior poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. For example, any service animal that displays vicious behavior towards other guests or customers may be excluded. You may not make assumptions, however, about how a particular animal is likely to behave based on your past experience with other animals. Each situation must be considered individually.

If you have personal experience with service animals you know that they display better behavior and hygiene than your average “hairless ape”. And their presence creates a more congenial atmosphere, and actually makes you look better as a business.

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