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My Christmas present

January 9, 2010

Have you ever had one of those phases when you wonder "What's the use?" I had one of those little mental train wrecks last month.

I cannot begin to explain how many things happened during the last month of 2009 that had me taking one step forward and two steps back. Just when I was at a pre-Christmas low, something amazing happened. Someone got it! Someone actually listened to some disability information they heard somewhere, sometime, somehow. This had nothing to do with the Tri-Lakes Center for Independent Living, although I sure hope it came through some center's hard work.

On Dec. 23, at around three in the afternoon, I was at Price Chopper in Plattsburgh. (I'm being so specific because it would make my day if you know this story already, or if you are any of the players.)

A female customer was having a complete hissy fit over a service animal being in the store. When I happened by, she was raking three Price Chopper employees over the coals for allowing the animal into the store. Now, the only thing I love more than a good argument is a good argument with a person who is spewing babble and has no idea how colossally discriminatory their verbiage is.

Alas, this was not my moment to save the day, much as I would have loved to make an example of this fantastic gift that I was sure God was handing me on a silver platter. Think about it ... how crowded is a supermarket the afternoon before Christmas Eve? Why was this not my moment? It turns out it was their moment.

The Three Price Chopper employees were the modern equivalent of the Three Wise Men. They knew all about the laws regarding service animals. They were patient with the customer. They countered all of her ridiculous reasons why this should not be so. She was indignant. They were steadfast. I did not get involved. I didn't even walk a little slower so I could find out how the scene was going to play out.

The whole thing took no more than 30 seconds really. In 30 seconds, I could see that the Three Wise Price Chopper Employees were going to handle this Grinch. Yeah, yeah-I know I'm mixing secular and non-secular stuff but Grinch is a really good word.

So, kudos's to Price Chopper and thank you for 30 seconds that reaffirmed my belief-yes, it is all worth it. If you, the reader, happen to be the aforementioned Grinch-Wow! It's hard to believe, especially around the loving and joyful holiday season, that someone could freak out the way you did. I never saw the person with the service animal and I sure hope they never got a load of your tirade. What a slap in the face to people with disabilities that you would single out one person who, just like you, was trying to shop for groceries and get through their holiday "to do" list. I hope it was worth it.

For those of you who continue to be jerks and are looking for service animal loopholes, here are a few Frequently Asked Questions regarding Service Animals. The answers, by the way, are courtesy of state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo-there aren't any loopholes.


What is a service animal?

A service animal is not a pet. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.

Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot

perform for him or herself. "Seeing eye dogs" are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. But there are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities.

Some examples include: Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds; pulling wheelchairs, or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments; assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance.


What are the laws that apply to businesses?

Under the ADA, privately owned businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports facilities, are prohibited from discriminating

against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed. Under New York law, no person shall be denied admittance to and/or the equal use of and enjoyment of any public facility solely because he or she has a disability and is accompanied by a guide dog, hearing dog or service dog.

Public facilities include, but are not limited to, all modes of public and private transportation, all forms of public and private housing accommodations, buildings to which the public is invited or permitted, and all other places of public accommodations, convenience, resort, entertainment or business to which the general public is normally or customarily invited or permitted.

No direct or indirect additional charge is permitted for a service animal accompanying a person with a disability.

Any person violating these laws can be assessed damages and penalties by the state Division of Human Rights or a court of competent jurisdiction.

See N.Y. Civil Rights Law '' 40-c, 47 and 47-b and N.Y. Executive Law '' 296(2) and 296(14).


How can I tell if an animal is really a service animal and not just a pet?

Some service animals wear special collars and harnesses. Some are licensed or certified and have identification papers. If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person.

Although a number of states have programs to certify service animals, you may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.


What must I do when an individual with a service animal comes to my business?

The service animal must be permitted to accompany the individual with a disability to all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go.


I have a clearly posted "no pets" policy at my establishment. Do I still have to allow service animals in?

Yes. A service animal is not a pet. The ADA requires you to modify your "no pets" policy to allow the use of a service animal by a person with a disability. This does not mean you must abandon your "no pets" policy, but simply that you must make an exception to your general rule for service



My county health department has told me that only a seeing eye or guide dog has to be admitted. If I follow those regulations, am I

violating the ADA?

Yes, if you refuse to admit any other type of service animal on the basis of local health department regulations or other state or local laws.

The ADA provides greater protection for individuals with disabilities and so it takes priority over the local or state laws or regulations.


Can I charge a maintenance fee for customers who bring

service animals into

my business?

No. Neither a deposit nor a surcharge may be imposed. However, you may charge a maintenance

fee if a service animal causes damage so long as it is the regular practice of the entity to charge nondisabled customers for the same types of damages.



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