Friday, October 23, 2009

Monkeys as Service Animals

The local "monkey as service animal" case made the radio talk show to which I listen today, and Richard the Monkey earned one pro and one con vote from the hosts. In relation to "service animal," the rules are both general and specific. From an ADA Business Brief:
Service animals are animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks. Service animals are working animals, not pets.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. This federal law applies to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis and shuttles, grocery and department stores, hospitals and medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks, and zoos.
Traditionally, we seem to think of service animals as "guide dogs," but dogs do other things, including compensating for limited range of motion. With the historical "seeing eye dog" in mind, we often leap to the conclusion that all service animals are dogs.

A friend recently posted a comment, in fact, suggesting a further definition -- that is, only dogs of a certain breed might be qualified. Reading the government's text, though, leads to the inference that other animals might be service animals, at least in a sense that access must be available to them.

An aside: our family rescued a retired racing Greyhound dog about 20 years ago. It fell to me to walk him around the neighborhood for exercise. When people would ask me, "What kind of dog is that?" I would reply, "He's my seeing leg dog."
A most interesting intellectual exercise, however, is to read the actual court decision in the "Is Richard the Monkey a Service Animal?" case. The judge avoided making law -- that is, he avoided deciding whether a monkey-not-Richard might be considered a service animal. Instead he suggested, first, that the plaintiff did not have a disability, and second, that Richard had no service animal training and did not perform any task other provided the same sort of comfort and companionship that any other animal considered a "pet" might offer.

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