Monday, December 20, 2010

Puppy Raisers and Public Access

When you raise a puppy for a service dog organization, it is inevitable that people will question you when you enter public buildings. Sometimes you will even be denied access unless you leave your dog outside. It's very important for puppy raisers to understand the laws about public access for service dogs-in-training. It's so important that we made it the topic of our lecture on Wednesday evening.

What is public access? It's the right of a person with a disability to have a service dog in any place that caters to the public, and this right is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although the ADA doesn't mention trainers of service dogs, individual states have laws concerning public access for puppy raisers. In Pennsylvania, puppy raisers have the same public access as people who have a working service dog. Puppy raisers may take their service dog-in-training into any store, restaurant, theater, etc. that is open to the public, and businesses are required to treat them as they would treat anyone else who walked into their establishment. (Public access for service dogs-in-training differs by state, so make sure you check your state's laws before taking your dog-in-training out in public.)

If you're a puppy raiser and someone tells you you can't bring your service dog-in-training into their place of business, what should you do? Smile. Always smile and be tolerant of people who don't know or understand the laws about service dogs and service dogs-in-training. Service dog and service dog-in-training laws are not always well known, and employees may be worried that they'll get in trouble with their manager if they allow the dog inside. As a puppy raiser, it's your job to calmly and politely explain that service dogs-in-training are not pets and they are allowed to go anywhere that is open to the public.

Sometimes, you may need to ask for a manager. If the manager is unfamiliar with the laws and tells you that your dog-in-training must leave, don't force the issue. Smile and thank them for their time. If you're a puppy raiser for SSD, take their names and write down where and when you were there. We will be happy to call and talk with them about our program and the laws about service dogs and service dogs-in-training.

There are a few places where public access for service dogs-in-training can be refused. Private residences, private clubs, places of worship and some areas of hospitals can ask you not to bring your dog-in-training inside. In addition, if allowing the dog inside would cause a fundamental alteration in the way a business operates, a business can refuse to allow the dog inside. For example, if a candy factory requires everyone to wear hairnets when taking a tour, they can refuse to allow your dog-in-training to accompany you.

There are exceptions to these exceptions, however. If any of these places holds an event that is open to the general public, they must allow your service dog-in-training access. For example, if a church holds a bake sale or a spaghetti dinner that is open to the public, legally they must allow your dog-in-training to attend, even if they normally ask you to leave the dog at home for worship services.

No matter where you go, whether you and your dog-in-training are asked to leave or whether you're welcomed inside, always be polite and smile. We want a service dog's training to be a positive experience for everyone.

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