Resident: ‘Comfort animals’ an abuse of ADA

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By Barry R. Goldman

Let me preface this: I like most dogs and other animals. I have no issue with responsible pet owners or those with legitimate disabilities needing and using a trained service animal. But I do have issues with persons who abuse the system.

Service animals are dogs established and defined within the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state law (ARS §11-1024, which includes miniature horses) to assist disabled persons, necessary for daily activities. Both laws agree that animals which, due to their “…crime deterrent effects…provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort or companionship…” are excluded as service animals. Those types of animals are pets, not service animals.

People claiming “rights” to a “comfort animal” abuse the system by improperly using the ADA as their crutch. Trained service animals are explicitly defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The U.S. Justice Dept. states that service animals are “…defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”

“Comfort animals” (those for “emotional support,” therapy, comfort or companionship) are not considered service animals under the ADA. Neither are service animals “in training” – the dog must already be trained before it can be taken into public places. Service animals are working animals, not pets.

Arizona state law agrees. A service animal is one which performs tasks directly related to the individual’s disability, and is “…assisting individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing nonviolent protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, assisting an individual during a seizure, alerting individuals to the presence of allergens, retrieving items such as medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities and helping individuals with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.”

For the business owner or customer, that same state law says it is not discriminatory to exclude a service animal from a public place if the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others or the animal fundamentally alters the nature of the public place or the goods, services or activities provided or the animal poses an undue burden.

Service animals are dogs, specifically trained to perform a specific assistive function under the law – not to provide comfort.

When someone brings his or her “comfort animal” in the dining area of a restaurant, it fundamentally alters the nature of the public place. I don’t particularly care to eat my meals with someone’s animal, regardless if it’s on their lap, in their purse or sits on the floor. Your lap pooch is not a service dog. It’s a pet. Leave it at home.