The definition of a service animal

Many of us are familiar with the idea of a dog serving as a service animal, but people in the state of Washington currently have a greater array when it comes to picking out a helpful animal. Under the state’s current law monkeys, parrots, snakes, ferrets, lizards and full-size horses have been brought into restaurants under the guise of service animals. The state’s current loose definition of service animal allows nondisabled people with pets to push the envelope of the service animal meaning.

So what is a state to do when a man rides a full-size horse into a store? Redefine the meaning of service animal along the definition that is outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under current state law, service animal is defined as any animal that is trained to assist a disabled person. Any such animal is allowed to access “places of public resort, accommodation, assemblage or amusement.” The definition caused problems in restaurants, bars and grocery stores especially regarding food safety. Under the proposed law that conforms with the service animal definition from the ADA, only service dogs and mini horses will be allowed in venues where food is sold to people. Other service animals would still be allowed in public places.

State lawmakers believe the proposed measure will solve the food safety concerns that food proprietors in the state have had and the measure will provide a needed standard for employees who interact with people and their service animals. Some truly wild examples of service animals that were offered at a legislative hearing were a man who said the boa constrictor around his neck was needed to prevent seizures and a store patron who rode his horse into the establishment.

Source: The Associated Press, “WA bill would narrow definition of service animals,” Robin Hindery, 2/25/11

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