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February 2020

Service Animal Dilemma – Need or Desire?

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By Ronnie Miles
Director of Advocacy
NGCOA
 
Golf course operators, like so many in the service industry, are facing another new challenge: customers wanting to bring loving pets with them wherever they go. In years past, it was commonly known that animals were not permitted inside businesses or on golf courses. The only exception was what were called seeing-eye dogs.

Seeing-eye dogs are easily identifiable. Today, there are new groups of animals owners feel also are protected and should be afforded the same privileges. The Americans with Disabilities Association (ADA) is the only federal organization that defines service animals protected by federal law.

Currently, in addition to service animals as defined by the ADA, there are emotional service animals and therapeutic animals. For most of us over age 50, seeing-eye dogs were the only protected animals. But today, the ADA no longer attempts to define the type of animal that can be trained and serve as a service animal, emotional service animals and therapeutic animals.

An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefits, such as alleviating or mitigating some symptoms of an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. Emotional support animals are typically dogs and cats, but may include other animals.

Therapeutic animals provide people with therapeutic contact, usually in a clinical setting, to improve their physical, social, emotional and/or cognitive functions. Like emotional support animals, therapeutic animals provide their owner services that include relieving loneliness, helping with depression, anxiety and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.

The challenge for golf course operators is how to limit access to animals protected by the ADA. Regardless of what category the animal may serve, businesses are prohibited from asking the customer what disability they have which warrants permitting them to bring their animal onto the property. The law does, however, allow you to ask questions pertaining to the animal. Permitted questions are:

1. Is the animal required because of a disability?

2. What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

In addition to these questions, service animals are required to be under the control of the owner. This requires they be on leash at all times unless the disability prohibits the use of the leash. Animals must also be housebroken. If animals are found to lack the discipline of a trained service animal, business operators are permitted to request the animal be removed from the property. The guest can be denied service if they fail to keep their animals under control. The National Restaurant Association has published a list of frequently asked questions that also can be applied to golf course operations. Many states have created laws that may further define the level of protection to support animals not covered under the ADA.

The NGCOA supports all individuals with disabilities and encourages members to ensure their staff and facility are prepared to meet their special needs. Additional information and resources are available by contacting me.

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