Webinar presenter and NACA Board Member Nick Lippincott answered a number of your questions after his presentation, From Guide Dogs to Therapy Squirrels: The Americans with Disabilities Act and Animal Welfare Professionals. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: I am a deputy chief of a policed department on a university, we have a policy that follows the ADA guidelines as you’ve outlined. However, it does not state in the policy who will make sure that the guidelines are followed. Who makes sure animals are vaccinated? Who removes the animal if there is a threat? Who do we call if the animal goes to the bathroom in the building and no one wants to clean it up if custodians don’t want to bring it up? They’re struggling with who will oversee all the rules and policy. Do you have any recommendations or guidance you can provide them? By the way, it says that we have warned that a new student will be bringing a pig to campus next fall.
Nick Lippincott: What I can say is campus situations are unique as you have your own little ecosystem you are dealing with. What I can tell you is that the county I work in is Orange County in Florida. We are home to the University of Central Florida, one of the largest universities in the nation, I can tell you first hand, housing students, we very often are coming across service animal and emotional support animals and housing situations which have caused many problems. There are some things I would hold your agency’s potentially the people to enforce. The thing is they would, starting with the simple side, I would say that that person or owner should be the person cleaning up after the animal. However, if they are not cleaning up, often for instance in Orange County we have requirements and staff-written ordinance about failing to clean up after, causing offensive odors, failure to remove excrement or feces or urine and causing a general nuisance. Potentially, if you consult your local animal services, animal control, the ordinance in which they may have something for that. In regards to removing an animal, again ultimately depends on the situation I think. I will ultimately say that to remove an animal is something that requires a lot of legal requirements to be met before I move forward, I would use Florida in Orange County again as an example stating that in Orange County and in Florida, animals are ultimately considered property. Just like our law enforcement have to have certain criteria met to remove somebody’s property from their home or possession, an animal is the same. Where they may be acting sure in violation there may be a civil citation that has to be taking place to put them in front of the court to make the changes. ADA in regards is often enforced when it’s broken let’s say by the building. It’d be the opposite of or housing situations failed to allow service animals on its premises ADA may be involved. As for law enforcement, what we need to often look at is what we are able to enforce, what we are able to sure of. If we can identify that this animal is not a service animal and we can provide proof of that, does our housing situation need you to require a potential eviction? Can they take legal action after consulting an attorney, all of this after consulting the legal, to maybe have them evicted or removed? School guidelines I think are what we are going to look at in regards to what policies they have in place. Do they have exemptions for service animals or emotional support animals? Like I said the IDEA act for our public schools for our children maybe has application there, maybe not. I can tell you that a pig is not going to qualify as a service animal. Emotional support and therapy, though maybe. Ultimately, if you send me an email and ask a little bit more, I’ll be happy to look a little bit more into maybe specifically where your problem exists and maybe we can work together to find some guidelines that may help a little bit more.
Audience Question: Our agency has had a hospital try and make us take an animal because of its sanitation policies but we are not able to do that due to the dog being a diabetic alert dog. I’ve been told for our policies we do not enforce sanitation policies at a hospital and cannot just take an animal due to the animal being property. Leslie would like to know your thoughts and recommendations for situations like this. Also, ask do you need to obtain a pick-up order or warrant to remove that service dog from the owner?
Nick Lippincott: Great question and a tough situation. You have basically I’ve come across many times and added an extra challenge to it in which we now know, unlike my occasion which I didn’t know initially. We know what that animal provides. We know that it’s a diabetic alert dog. My question and challenge to that situation and maybe my challenge to the individual that say I can’t take it would be am I by removing this dog causing a health risk to the individual who that dog provides the service for. I would take into consideration the location that the person is at, a hospital. As much a service that that dog provides, what I know is a hospital likely can provide better monitoring and service than that dog could. Maybe there’s a potential if we do need to go forward and get approval and say we know it’s a diabetic alert dog. We also know while in the care of the hospital, that individual is provided adequate, sufficient and equivalent service that that dog will provide. Is there a need for it to still be there? Maybe, maybe not. I would say that hospital policy is what it is. Hospital policies do have the ability to look at the direct risks. For instance, one of the dogs that I have impounded from the hospital floor, the individual is housed in an infectious disease area, in an ICU basically where the sanitation and sterilization requirements where at a highly significant and elevated level. Because of those things, because of the general risks I had to say, not just the general sanitation but the health risk by the hospital is so extreme that this animal being here and destroying a possibly sanitary environment pose a direct threat to not only the staff but mostly the other patients the hospital required to care for. That was the grounds in which I felt comfortable removing some of these dogs before. I did that though with a lot of caution. I made a point to ensure every other avenue was pursued to get this dog in the care of next of kin. Made sure that the hospital has pursued all of its options to provide care to the dog and to the patient that might be alternative to what they are doing right now. I would ultimately say that if you have a legal team definitely clarify the policy and procedure that you guys can pursue. There are going to be situations where maybe it is not the best interest to remove the animal. I always found that in this situation, I felt comfortable because I knew that any service the animal provided was being provided at a better level by the staff itself of the hospital. I would say a pick-up order is never a bad thing if you can get one. Often something like that takes so long within our jurisdiction that it is not a reasonable thing. I would say that the hospital also has a requirement in my opinion to provide proof to you that they have pursued all avenues making this the only option that is left for both the health and well being of the animal and the patients. I make a point to get any hospital trying to pick up a dog from it a very long very detailed statement by the risk management, their head nurse, somebody who runs it and whose statement and signature matters to ensure that liability- wise my agency, I’m reducing that risk. Impounding an animal is always an incredibly risky thing for us to do. There’s always a lot of potential legal ramifications and challenges depending on the scenarios. I would ultimately say if I can avoid bringing a dog to my shelter, I’m going to take it and I’m going to pursue it. As long as I’ve made sure I pursued every avenue and the only option against the safety and health and well being of the dog and the people will be impounding and getting it back to the owners as soon as possible may be the option needed to pursue. I haven’t gotten pick up orders but I make a point for that person if I’m holding the animal for them to know exactly where and how to get that animal back as soon as possible.
Audience Question: Can a service animal be required to be removed if someone in the building is allergic or to be just to keep the animal away from the allergic person? And they used an example of a dander allergy.
Nick Lippincott: Great question. According to actual ADA guidelines. There are certain things which do not require an exception to be made for the removal of the animal. Two of those things are going to be the statement of allergies are not enough according to ADA guidelines to warrant a service animal to be removed when otherwise it’s allowed to be there. The other one would be the generalized fear or being uncomfortable with an animal. As long as that animal is in control and not exhibiting any behavior that could show a potential of a direct threat or of a risk of others’ safety, just a simple discomfort of the animal existing would usually not be enough to require that animal to be removed. Again, allergies would also be aside from that. It would be something where we can make the best effort to accommodate both parties that might fall into the location where the animal is, say it’s a restaurant or a housing place, group homes, dormitories, apartment complex, school. It might be on the requirements on them to provide the most accessibility for parties involved which maybe we do need to work on the scenario where it is scheduled better maybe where the room needed to be shifted to accommodate both parties fully. To have the animal completely removed under those spaces I would not think that would be enough.
Audience Question: Are there any consequences for someone lying about their dog being a service dog?
Nick Lippincott: There can be. There can be significant ones. Those are going to fall mostly under state guidelines. Like I said, that first resource way back here, State Assistance Animal Laws. If you go there they’ve done a very good job surveying all state laws pulling anything relevant to service and assistance animals. Assistance animals being accompanying name to all types of critters. Many of those, again I’ll use Florida as an example, does have something for impersonating a service animal. Often that can range from a misdemeanor to a citable offense. Some required community service. Some fines involved depending on the state. Impersonating or lying about service animals. Specifically, a service animal, emotional support, things like that are not clearly defined as whether those are included as well in Florida. Penalties can be applied though so make sure to research your individual state’s laws they will often include a section for penalties impersonating a service animal or misrepresenting an animal as a service animal.
Audience Question: What if in a response to what were the tasks the animal has been trained to perform if the person answers my dog is trained to provide a service for me. Can we ask for clarification and specificity?
Nick Lippincott: Let’s go back here real quick. These are verbatim from the American Disabilities Act guidelines for service animals. Again, we ask is the animal required because of a disability? Yes, it is. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform? It’s been trained to provide a service. I would consider that a non-answer. One good job here would be saying what are the tasks? What tasks have the animal trained to perform? Example of those tasks would be to hit the call button on my wrist for 911 when I have an epileptic seizure or if I’m having a seizure to run and get the nearest person or alert loudly by barking that I am down, to provide a brace when I fall down to gain my stability and be able to get myself up, to detect and alert me or others to severe drops and raises in my blood glucose, to see foresee and intervene a potential self-harming event caused by anxiety, panic attack or some other disorder. It’s been trained to provide a specific task. To make the statement of it providing a service, I would state that as a non-answer. How far do I want to push that to get that answer is on the individual. I would say that if that person, my thing is this ultimately. If a person has a service animal, a true service animal has been trained to perform the task, that individual is most likely very aware of these statements and these questions. Therefore most likely will have a very clear-cut answer as to what that task will be. The further you deviate away from somebody who has clear cut answers to these questions, the more and more I will begin to question the validity of their answers and their responses. What options do you decide to take as an agency or an individual from that point whether it’d be asking them to removed or for your state agency and want to pursue misrepresentation violations ultimately falls upon you, your comfort and your confidence in your choices and your agency’s enforcement options? Now, when I come across in my history. When I come across somebody with a service animal designed to provide a very specific task, they have no problem and are very quick in understanding that this is a question they have an answer for and can provide very quickly.
Audience Question: Does a doctor writing a note constitute an emotional support animal or are there more specific requirements? He goes on to say we have doctors writing notes all the time even had a chiropractor write a note for an emotional support animal. Are those valid just because a doctor wrote them?
Nick Lippincott: Interesting point and I find this a lot as well just went back to one of my hospital dogs. Here’s what we know about service animals and what we know about service animals and what we know about the guidelines put up. We know that there are no requirements for certification, for registration, for documentation, for licensing in any way, shape or form according to the guidelines for a service animal. That means if I’m looking at it from a critical perspective, that person most likely knows that they have a service animal but they don’t need those things. They may have something like a vet store card which may assist them in day-to-day dealing with people who are ignorant of the guidelines to get them through security, get them in a restaurant, not get them asked to leave and just have an easier day-to-day operation because they may have not a vest, a tag or something like that. What most likely they wouldn’t have is a note from a doctor because a note from the doctor is in no way required. When it comes to emotional support animals, that is often where I start seeing these notes appear. They’re a wonderful thing to have. Ultimately an emotional support animal doesn’t necessarily have to have documentation but maybe if I’m going to an airline. We can use our airlines as an example here where people like United, Delta, some of these groups, they do lay out in their policies. While being, this is part of FAA guidelines, being in compliance with those, they have different requirements. They can modify their requirements. They can do things such as (indiscernible 1:11:33). We have our Airline Access Act, Air travel can allow emotional support animals. You can also ask for documentation, for signage form or even just verbal reassurance that this is an emotional support animal to that person and not just a companion animal that’s brought on board. They still don’t have to include certain things, rodents, squirrels, snakes, very odd animals, a pig that defecates in the aisle will most likely be asked to leave. Our doctor’s note can give us maybe some reassurances as an agency investigating may give us the okay this is where we’re fit to push further. You can stay here, may apply. For our Fair Housing Act, again, that emotional support note from the doctor may be what they need in their policies to feel comfortable allowing that to occur. When it comes to emotional support versus service animals, if I have a service animal with a note, I should never have to get as far as knowing what that note says because I don’t need it, to begin with. I have these two questions and anything else I get from them is just extra to help support their thoughts. Being pessimist, clinical and questioning a lot of things like a person that I am, if I am service animal and provided a note saying it’s a service animal, I wonder why because that person should know the guidelines and know that it’s not something they need.