How Do We Define a Service Animal? Walmart Was Sued Because of This Issue
I remember entering Walmart about several months ago, which was a short time after the Debbie Rose Case. This case involved a monkey owner who was denied access to one of the Walmart restaurants because she had her monkey with her. She claims that the monkey was a service animal that she carried with her to lessen anxiety, due to a nervous condition. The question this raises is how do you define a service animal?
When I went to Walmart that morning a group of young men entered the store with a python snake. I have a phobia to snakes, not that I don’t understand that pets are a reflection of the individuality of each pet owner. However, I also believe there is a time and place for everything and if you want to carry your python snake with you fine. Just make sure it is stored in a proper carrying case made for transporting reptiles, that way there is no chance of your pet leaving you and thus becoming a problem for other customers.
I went over to tell the greeter about this group of young men and their pet. She told security and security told her that if the animal was deemed a service animal, these young men could shop all they want with a snake hanging from them. I told her “What are these young men going to tell security? Are they going to tell security that they have a seeing-eye snake?” She knew I was making a good point. She also told me that she was also afraid of snakes and was not happy at all with the situation. I asked her. What is the deal with service animals? What gives these young men the right to bring a python in the store?
The greeter explained to me that recently there was a court case involving a woman, who had brought in a monkey and was not allowed to shop. She then went on to sue Wal-Mart for denying her the right to bring a service animal in the store. Apparently, the judge ruled in her favor and this meant that Wal-Mart would have to grant customers the right to bring in any animal as long as they can prove that this is a service animal needed to aid them due to disability.
Good thing, these young men did not suffer from any disabilities and they could not prove the python was a service animal, therefore they had to leave the store. This is the problem created when courts lack common sense. We must limit the definition of what constitutes a service animal.
Let consider the implications. If someone wants to bring an animal that is considered repulsive and even scary to most people and that can even cause other customers to panic, they would have to bear with that person's demands, on account that their strange pet is deemed a service animal. I for one, believe that if someone must make the public endure their “service animal” they must have a certificate in their wallet stating that their pet is indeed a service animal, otherwise they must leave the premises.
I remember a short while back seeing a news story, about a blind woman who rides what she calls her Seeing Eye horse. She goes everywhere on horseback, even the supermarket. I have a great deal of sympathy for the pain and suffering of blind people, but I feel that having a horse in the produce section of the market where I shop can be a danger to my health. Horses are much taller than Seeing Eye dogs and likely to drool on the produce. If there is already an animal that can do the job, and is considered acceptable by society, why should the public have to be subjected to someone’s unusual preferences? Rights are important, but everything in life has its limits, even the definition of what constitutes a service animal.
The Department of Justice was overwhelmed with thousand of comments concerning their “narrow” definition of what constitutes a service animal. It announced its plan to narrow its definition of service animals, by excluding all wild animals (this include reptiles, rabbits, farm animals, amphibians, ferrets and rodents). It seems that these reasonable guidelines are being questioned by many. Unfortunately, most people, who insist on “their rights” don’t always consider the overall implications, and how it can affect us all.
Law makers must consider the risks they will be putting public venues in, such as stores and movie theatres, by allowing people to bring in any animal that they deem a service animal. What if one of the other customers sues the business because one of these service animals happens to bite them or the sight of one of these animals causes them to panic. This could also mean significant losses in business for many establishments.
If I see someone with a python snake at a movie, I’m attending; I will leave immediately and ask for a refund. I am not the only person out there who is afraid of snakes. Therefore, there will be many other people, who are likely to request a refund as well, when put in that type of situation. This in turn, will cost many movies theatres a substantial amount of their income. In other words, allowing people to bring their pets into any venue they choose could be very bad for businesses, regardless of whether or not, they can prove that their animal is indeed a service animal.
As of 2009 the definition of a service animal has changed from the following: “Service animal means any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items."
To the following: "Service animal means any dog or other common domestic animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, fetching items, assisting an individual during a seizure, retrieving medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and assisting individuals, including those with cognitive disabilities, with navigation. The term service animal includes individually trained animals that do work or perform tasks for the benefit of individuals with disabilities, including psychiatric, cognitive, and mental disabilities. The term service animal does not include wild animals (including nonhuman primates born in captivity), reptiles, rabbits, farm animals (including any breed of horse, miniature horse, pony, pig, or goat), ferrets, amphibians, and rodents. Animals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, or to promote emotional well-being are not service animals."
This means that when we see someone with python snake or horse, we do have the right to request that security makes them leave. This may sound harsh to some people, but in public venues, we all have a right to a safe and comfortable shopping experience. Laws have to be made to encompass the needs of all people, not just a few, and it is very important that lawmaker practice common sense, when making laws concerning the public. People in need of service animals can be accommodated and even benefited, by fair and reasonable laws that take their needs into consideration, while considering what is in the best interest of the public. I think that the abridge version of the law does that, and the fact that there are limitations on the type of animal that can be defined as a “service animal” is a comfort to me. I hope that the law makers don’t cave in, due to the pressures from a few individuals, and do a disservice to the general public.
As Rodney King once wisely stated after the L.A. riots back in the nineties “Can’t we all just get along.” Wise words from a very wise man, it is important that when laws are made, that getting along and living together in harmony, be taken into consideration.
If you would like more information on the current laws concerning service animals and an article on the Rose/Monkey case, here are some links for your convenience.