Under the ADA, the NYSHRL, and the NYCHRL, service animals are permitted to access all places of public accommodation, including restaurants. Restaurant owners are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities, regardless of the nature of the disability, and cannot (or at least should not) refuse admittance to an individual with a disability who wishes to bring their animal onto the premises, regardless of whether the restaurant has a “no pets” policy or not. Additionally, restaurants are not permitted to impose any deposit, fee, or surcharge for admitting the animal. So, it comes as something of a surprise to learn a veteran in Florida was recently refused service at a bar in Port Orange. Oddly enough, her dog wasn’t.
Florida Bar Refused to Serve Veteran with Service Dog
Taking to Facebook after the incident, the veteran, Alexandra Nass, wrote “Is it because we are disabled, we have to leave? Since our dogs can stay. It’s a shame they have American flags all over the building but this is how they treat people with disabilities.” After taking a seat at the restaurant, Nass, her daughter (who’s also a veteran), and their friend proceeded to place their orders. So far, so good. But around 20 minutes later, the group were approached by a manager who asked them to leave. The manager, in her words, had called the owner about the situation, and been told to kick the threesome out as no animals were allowed in the restaurant. In a slightly bizarre twist, the manager then reportedly said that while the friends would need to leave, their dogs could stay. What the manager expected to achieve with that particular strategy remains unclear. What is clear, on the other hand, is that Nass isn’t prepared to let the incident be forgotten. And considering the level of discrimination that service animals and their owners all too often face, you have to applaud her commitment.
Both Nass and her daughter work for K9Line Inc., a non-profit organization that, as Fox reports, “trains service dogs for military veterans who have served their country.” It stands to reason then, that Nass knows her rights and isn’t shy to exercise them. As well as being on the warpath with the restaurant itself (who she’s already warned she’ll be slapping with a lawsuit), she’s also none too happy with the local police department, who just days before, had not only done nothing when the same restaurant had told another veteran and his service dog that they weren’t welcomed, but had actively accompanied him off the property, with the office in charge noting he didn’t care what ADA law stated as he didn’t what it was.
But ignorance is neither bliss, nor an excuse. Under federal law, service animals aren’t considered pets; they’re medical tools. Not all disabilities are ‘visual’, but neither do they have to be. Epilepsy Response dogs, PTSD dogs, and even Allergy Response dogs all perform crucial work, but the disabilities of their owners might often go unnoticed by the casual observer. And quite often, that’s where the problem lies. A guide dog assisting a visually impaired person is unlikely to experience quite so many cries of ‘no pets’ as a PTSD dog assisting a veteran. But the importance of the work performed by the one is no less vital than the work performed by the other. Neither is it any less protected by law.
Service Dogs Vs Emotional Support Dogs
To some extent, the treatment dolled out by the restaurant is explainable (at least to a degree), if not excusable. In recent years, there’s been growing unrest from certain factions about emotional support animals (ESA’s), and the ease with which a medical note attesting to their need can be obtained. With a doctor’s note to hand, the ESA and their handler are afforded certain protections, including the right to travel together in the cabin of a flight without paying extra fees. While very few people would question the rights of a legitimate support animal, whether or not the rules are being exploited by people simply looking to get a free ride for their pet is becoming an increasingly asked question. As Forbes reports, the absence of any regulations on the training of ESA’s has also resulted in so many unfortunate incidents on planes, there’s now talk of a ban being imposed.
Knowing Your Rights
But ultimately, service animals are in a different category to emotional support animals. Service dogs, by their very nature, are required to undergo extensive, ongoing training in order to assist their handler with an aspect of everyday living that otherwise, they’d be unable to perform independently. Service animals aren’t simply a source of comfort or companionship to their owners; they are working animals with a very set, very defined purpose. But unless a person has a visual disability that can be easily identified, how are restaurant owners and the like expected to tell the difference between a pet, a therapy dog, and an emotional support animal (none of which are allowed into a restaurant with a no pets policy) and a trained animal (who most certainly is)?
As totalfood.com (https://totalfood.com/service-dogs-allowed-restaurants/) notes, some handlers kit their pooches out in special collars or in harnesses, while other carry identification papers. But there’s no obligation for either. Handlers are not required to carry or show documentation relating to their disability, and neither are they required to show that the dog is a trained service dog in order to be allowed admittance into public places. A restaurant may, however, ask two questions before granting admittance:
- (1) is the animal required because of a disability
- (2) what work has the animal been trained to perform?
Providing the handler answers yes to the first question and can provide a reasonable description of the services the dog assists with, no restaurant is permitted to refuse them entry. Had the bar in Florida asked Nass the above, and had she failed to offer a reply, they would have been within their rights to refuse entry. Otherwise, they should probably start worrying about that lawsuit….