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How Do We Define a Service Animal? Walmart Was Sued Because of This Issue

Updated on March 13, 2018

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.

According to the 2009 abridged version of what constitutes the definition of a service animal, reptiles are excluded and are not considered service animals. They are not permitted in public venues.
According to the 2009 abridged version of what constitutes the definition of a service animal, reptiles are excluded and are not considered service animals. They are not permitted in public venues.

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.


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      Echoe 4 years ago

      Okay, there are some limits to your article. For starters, unless EVERYONE in the U.S. is required to disclose their medical conditions, you shouldn't be able to force anyone with a service animal to disclose theirs. That's public humiliation and immoral.

      Nest, MOST disabilities are NOT VISIBLY apparent. That means, there are not SOLELY blind people with animals for disability. There are PTSD animals for our vets, there are stability animals for amputees, there are animals for the deaf, (because yes, you can't hear a moron coming around the corner when the light in front of you is green and they refuse to let the pedestrian go first, as one example.) NOR are all blind people 100% blind. Only 5% of ALL blind people are 100% blind and most of us (yes I said "us") have some limited vision. I'm deaf and blind. One look at me and you would never know it. Ever. Seeing me in my daily habitat (which you wouldn't) is the only way you'd know I'm blind. I memorize how many steps down the stairs, I memorize how many steps to what door in the house, etc. I can look you in the eye, but I have no peripheral vision. None. I can talk normally (you'd notice the deafness if you paid close attention.) But I've been hit now by 3 cars. I've been accused more than NOT of faking disability.

      It is a sad day when there is a failure to understand disability. I understand your concern, but the key here is open communication, not outright denial of things misunderstood. The U.S. has a long way to go, but it is lightyears ahead of Europe, where I'd have been institutionalized from birth. (I lived there too) I was somewhat of a 15 minute celebrity in Amsterdam, where amazingly the treatment I received as a blind person with my dog was one of INCREDIBLE kindness and one that afforded the entire airline a much swifter result boarding and disembarking their other passengers.

      P.S. Animals are no less "unclean" than their human counterparts. If the dog you see is a service dog and looks very badly kept, you must report that to the animal control, because we DO have to follow laws regarding the health of the service animal. Maltreatment of ANY animal is against the law, service animal or no.

      Please consider that there are a large number of disabilities and many MANY disabled people living in the U.S. It is very humiliating having to explain a disability as others are not stopped and asked their health issues.

      The woman suing walmart over the service monkey opened her own can of worms and was proven untruthful. But that means her sole goal was money, not gaining lawful entry into an establishment that serves the public. It's our (the disabled) duty to help foster the environment of tolerance and understanding. Bless you all, and I hope that I helped.

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 5 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Hello Sam and thank you for your input it totally supports the point of my article. I don't know about Ms. Rose's mental condition, but the court did make a good point in ruling in favor of Walmart, because a place where people eat is not an appropriate place to bring a monkey, unless it's at the zoo near the monkey cage. I appreciate you sharing this with, thanks again.

    • profile image

      sam 5 years ago

      The Federal court ruled against Ms Rose and the monkey was ruled as NOT being a service animal. She is a nut job, as is her whole family.

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 6 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Hello meme,

      Thank you for stopping by and I do agree, people should not use laws to abuse with businesses, you and your other patrons have a right to a clean shopping environment. People should also be mindful of how clean their pets are kept, this could be a health threat to both them and anyone who comes in contact with that animal. It would be nice if laws favored businesses in this way, while serving those who truly need service animals.

    • profile image

      meme 6 years ago

      at work today a man brought in a large gross unclean dog with a sevice vest ... i asked him did the manger talk to him.the dog was not doing any task but walking with the man.. business owners should get together and tighten this law up

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 6 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      I agree, that statistically that's true, but then again, people are much more exposed to dogs than snakes. More people own dogs, so it's logical that the incidents involving dogs would be far more common. On the other hand, more people have phobias that have to do with snakes than dogs and they find snakes unpleasant.

      Blind people can use a dog to find their way around a venue, a snake does not have that capacity, therefore, dogs do fill a necessity, that snakes, while giving pleasure to a few, scare many. Therefore, it would not be profitable for a business owner to allow snakes into their business establishment, because they risk loosing customers.

      I refuse to stand in line next to someone holding a snake. Given the large number of people that feel like I do, well that would be a large amount of revenue lost to that business. Even if the snake is unoffensive, I cannot bear to have one near me. Phobias are strange, but nevertheless they are very strong and will determine how one reacts when surrounded by a particular animal, regardless of how "harmless' that animal is. Also not all species of snakes are harmless, like a Doberman or a Rottweiler, snakes can be deadly.

    • profile image

      wgd71 6 years ago

      What about people who are afraid of dogs? Statistically speaking, attacks by dogs cause far more injuries and fatalities each year than snakes.

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 6 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Welcome back Jcbmltn,

      I understand regulating these matters is difficult, on the other hand, it isn't fair for the rest of us to have to put up with certain preferences, in the name of having a service animal if they can't prove it is a service animal. I refuse to shop next to someone with a python around his or her neck and that could be bad for a store in the way that there are others that feel the same way. Certain animals repel most of the public and there has to be a way for the people who want to bring them to public venues to justify having these animals at these venues when shopping.

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 6 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Hello Jake,

      Dogs are ok with me. In my article I didn't single out dogs, in fact dogs have been acceptable service animals for years, now if you want to bring an aggressive dog like a Doberman Pincher that may pose a risk, on the other hand dogs trained for service to those that are physically challenged are perfectly fine. What I do object to is an animal that may pose fear in others such as a snake or spider. These animals may pose a problem because many people have phobias to some of these animals and this may cause shoppers to avoid that venue. This could be bad for business owners.

    • profile image

      jcbhmltn 6 years ago

      sorry for the late response.

      i disagree though. my SD is in my mind my wheel chair with out him i cannot function.

      yes people abuse the law of service animals but if you made them show a proof of ID that's like checking every mexican that comes into a walmart for a green card

    • profile image

      jake 6 years ago

      yiou cant sue a buisness because your afraid of a dog :P educate yourself before you post please. people like you are the one's who make the service dog handlers very aggraveted

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 7 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Hi Jcbhmltn,

      I understand that my viewpoint my seem limited, but there are those of us out there who feel that some people abuse with the definition of a service animal and lets face it a snake and wheelchair are not the same thing.

    • profile image

      jcbhmltn 7 years ago

      yeah well the ADA says "any animal that is trained to perform a task for the person is a service animal" having to pull out an id for your service dog everywhere you go is ridicoulous deal with it!!! sommeone who has a wheel chair doesn't have to go into walmart saying "o by the way this is my wheel chair i cant walk"!!

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 8 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Thank you so much for your insight Springboard. I wish those who write legislature would take the needs of the general public into account when deciding in court and writing laws. I think it's sad that DUI's are even debatable, how many children would have to get killed before something intelligent is finally done. Laws used to be more cut and dry and based on common sense, now a days it seems everything is debatable, even common sense. Thanks for the comment, I appreciate your input.

    • Springboard profile image

      Springboard 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      I would agree. It's funny to me sometimes why it's so difficult to put forth common sense legislation. Some things need a lot of time and thought and debate. Others do not. It's a bit off-topic, but it's similar to the laws here in Wisconsin regarding drunk driving. We have people who have been arrested 8+ times for DUI and they still offend. Lawmakers say "it takes a lot to change the laws." I say, write the bill that says "from now on you have three strikes. First time fine. Second time fine and jail and loss of license. Third time, long term jail, big fine, and you can never drive a vehicle again. Period." Vote on it, pass it, enforce it. Simple.

      As for the guy with the service snake that wasn't, that story seemed a little slippery, no? ;)


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