The U.S. Department of Transportation has agreed to revisit rules for flying with emotional support and therapy animals, which U.S. airlines say are overly broad and easily abused.
Airlines claim the number of untrained pets causing problems on flights is becoming unmanageable. But that problem isn't confined to airports and the friendly skies.
As the Sentinel's Erin McIntyre reported, the Mesa County Health Department has seen an uptick in complaints about people bringing animals into food-related business like restaurants and grocery stores.
Monique Mull, the program manager for the Health Department's consumer protection division, says the rise in complaints reflects a misunderstanding about the Americans with Disabilities Act. The 1990 law allows specially trained dogs to accompany disabled persons anywhere they need to go, including food-related businesses.
The animals are difference-makers for people who truly need help navigating the world. Their training is extensive and wide-reaching, from assisting with mobility and guiding a handler to detecting seizures or low blood sugar.
The sight of a working service dog in a restaurant has apparently led some people to believe that they can take a pet grocery shopping or to their favorite lunch spot. Or, they may be familiar with the law, but try to pass off a pet as an "emotional support animal" or "therapy animal," which isn't covered by the ADA, but is allowed in housing and on airplanes under current federal rules.
Some people obtain "emotional support" certification for their pets from permissive online agencies, which often come with official-looking vests. But only certified service animals — trained for specific tasks to aid the disabled — are allowed, and those animals are limited to dogs and miniature horses.
So, if you're in the habit of taking your pet with you everywhere, knock it off. For one thing, misrepresenting pets as service animals is a petty offense punishable by a fine. Worse, it contributes to confusion about the law, which erodes public understanding of the integrity of service animals.
As McIntyre reported, "People who need service animals have found others are increasingly skeptical of their animals because, in many cases, they've encountered non-service animals in public places that behaved poorly or were clearly just pets wearing vests."
Non-service animals also can distract or threaten working service dogs, which affects their ability to serve their handlers.
Confusion over these issues indicates a need for some public awareness. Educating managers and workers in food-related business is a good starting point. They can ask a person accompanied by an animal what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. If the answer is the animal is there for emotional support or therapy, that's not a required reason to have it in a restaurant or grocery store.
Violators are no better than able-bodied people who park in spaces reserved for the disabled.