Bad news for service boas, companion spiders

by Walter Olson on October 21, 2009

New regulations from the Department of Justice may at last curb demands that business owners admit an ever wider array of designated service animals as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. ABA Journal:

Proposed revisions published in the Federal Register (PDF) would exclude not only snakes and other reptiles, but rabbits, farm animals, amphibians, ferrets, rodents and wild animals including monkeys born in captivity, according to the newspaper. They would also eliminate from the definition of service animal creatures who simply provide emotional support, comfort or companionship.

That would be a most unwelcome development to a Shelton, Wash. man who has gotten into conflicts with store and restaurant managers by bringing onto the premises the boa constrictor that he says helps alert him to impending seizures. Seattle Times:

The species are so varied that the Department of Transportation (DOT) mentioned some by name: spiders, for example, in regulations banning them from flying in aircraft cabins.

That the DOT mentioned spiders by name “means somewhere along the line, somebody brought … a service spider on the aircraft,” wrote Candy Harrington, editor of Emerging Horizons, a magazine for disabled travelers, in her blog.

The Department has received thousands of letters supporting the animal owners’ case, though. More on service animals here.

{ 25 comments }

1 Random Reader 10.21.09 at 8:08 am

That the DOT mentioned spiders by name “means somewhere along the line, somebody brought … a service spider on the aircraft,” wrote Candy Harrington

I wonder if it was a Seeing Eye spider or an emotional support spider?

2 David Schwartz 10.21.09 at 8:32 am

That the Department of Justice has to have rules about such things shows how massively screwed up our society is.

3 bradysdad 10.21.09 at 8:35 am

It’s about time.

4 loveless 10.21.09 at 10:44 am

Seems like mostly big steps forward. It seems to make sense to clamp down on ‘emotional support’ animals and most of the menagerie listed, but helper ponies (longer lifespan than dogs) and helper monkeys (for quadriplegics) are two examples I can think of where there might be legitimate advantages in some situations. Interesting that the objection to the latter was based on concerns of animal welfare and zoonotic disease. Are these more exotic options justifiable from a taxpayer’s perspective? Who knows.

5 KDP 10.21.09 at 10:49 am

How long before someone tries to claim a companion elephant while getting on a plane?

6 A.W. 10.21.09 at 11:08 am

> How long before someone tries to claim a companion elephant while getting on a plane?

Did Tom Arnold try that with his ex wife?

Seriously, except for the monkey thing, i think that all sounds reasonable. dogs are traditionally well domesticated and well tolerated. on the other hand, snakes give people hives so its not exactly fair to everyone else.

But as far as monkeys are concerned, well, what do they do? they are the hands of the paralyzed. okay, but then the solution might be simple: get a store employee to help.

Of course that reminds me of the time i was talking to a “seeing eye human.” i said to him, “does it bother you that you could be replaced by a dog?”

7 Jane 10.21.09 at 11:20 am

I’d much prefer to share an airplane with a spider than a two-year old but I’m one of those people who dislike most other people.

8 Random Reader 10.21.09 at 12:11 pm

The worst thing is that that article in the “Seattle Times” seems to have zillions of comments from emotionally disturbed folk who apparently can’t leave home without their support goats.

As a foreigner, I have to say that this attitude is one of the things that perplexes me about Americans. Not that you all share it, of course (obviously)– but just the fact that it appears to be quite widely accepted that “disabled” people must be accommodated at any cost.

My reaction is, if these people are really as screwed up as they claim to be, they’re clearly not capable of looking after themselves, and need to be in some kind of special care.

9 loveless 10.21.09 at 12:30 pm

I am sick of these mostly friendly snakes on a mostly full plane!

10 Bumper 10.21.09 at 1:08 pm

Snakes on a plane. I bet that would make a great plot for a movie!

11 Bryan C 10.21.09 at 1:16 pm

Heartless and cruel. I, for one, can’t make it through the day without my big bucket of emotional-support tuberculosis bacteria. The poor things can’t stay cooped up in those little petri dishes all day, you know.

12 A.W. 10.21.09 at 1:29 pm

Random

sure, lock away all the handicapped. and then subject them to the tender mercies of state neglect. goodie.

13 Random Reader 10.21.09 at 1:53 pm

A.W. I didn’t say “lock up all the handicapped”. I’m talking about the people who say they can’t appear in public without their companion hedgehogs, or whatever. If people are really that badly afflicted mentally, they should be in care.

I find it suspicious, though, that some of these “emotional support animals” apparently belong to species not exactly known for their ability to bond with humans.

All I was doing was giving an outsider’s viewpoint. We have legislation to protect the handicapped in my neck of the woods, too… it’s just that it’s never occurred to anyone to push it this far.

Why the sudden aggression?

14 Random Reader 10.21.09 at 2:17 pm

I will also note that one of the aforesaid emotionally crippled Seattle Times readers, who was screaming blue murder about the fact that business owners sometimes had the gall to question his need for a service whatever-it-was, had this to say on the subject of animals causing allergies:

Its the person with the allergy’s job to avoid their allergens. Its not the public’s job to accommodate them beyond the norm. Even if by chance they are disabled by their allergen, they can NOT deny another disabled person’s medical device.

Yes, this is an actual quote. What can I say?

15 Richard Nieporent 10.21.09 at 2:19 pm

Random Reader, I agree with you. This is what happens when you pass a “well meaning” law that gets interpreted by the lawyers, bureaucrats and the courts. As the old saying goes: The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

16 GregS 10.21.09 at 3:28 pm

I was planning to bring my black widow spider companion to the pediatric ward, and now I’ll have to leave her at home. It’s so unfair!

17 A.W. 10.21.09 at 4:56 pm

Random

Sorry, your cavalier attitude about taking away a person’s freedom stuck in my craw.

I would just say, “no, you can’t have your companion spider, you are just going to have to figure out how to get by without it.” locking them up seems to go a bit too far.

> it’s just that it’s never occurred to anyone to push it this far.

Well saying that companion spiders goes too far and saying they should be locked up are two different things.

> Yes, this is an actual quote. What can I say?

Well, if you are a blind guy would you tell him he can’t have a seeing eye dog because someone else has an allergy?

I think a lot of people are sick of the ridiculous lengths we go to protect people from peanut allergies. I think the peanut allergic will just have to figure out how to live their lives with occasional peanuts thrown at them.

Richard

> This is what happens when you pass a “well meaning” law that gets interpreted by the lawyers, bureaucrats and the courts.

Jesus H. Christ, you have no idea what the supreme court has been doing to the ADA do you? No, the courts generally hate this law and interpret it to pretty much never protect anyone. Now recently congress slapped them back a little, and we will see how they respond, but to pretend the courts have pushed this interpretation is silly.

Real disability discrimination exists. I know. I have faced it. I was denied my right to an education before the ADA was passed. And there are worse outcomes than a few business owners having to argue about companion spiders. Like thousands of people who could have been productive members of society robbed of the dignity of work because of a few narrow minded fools.

Yes, companion spiders go too far, but the answer isn’t to throw out the entire ADA, but to fine tune it where necessary.

And there is no question that our society has too many crazy suits. This site documents them on a regular basis. But sometimes the suit is about a kid who wants nothing more than to get an education on fair terms, and he has to fight teachers who would refuse to do so, based on the ugliest bigotry. I know it exists. I have seen it my whole life. Indeed more often these days the schools won’t let it go that far because they know the law is there, so the mere threat of suit gives these students opportunities they otherwise would have been denied.

I had a friend for instance who had a complete body disability. He couldn’t turn the pages of a book without help. And as if that wasn’t bad enough he was born poor—food stamp poor. Despite all those strikes against him, he became a lawyer. Do you think that ever could have happened before the ADA? No, before the ADA he would have been a big nothing. And not only is that a moral thing to do, to make sure this young man has a fair chance at making something of himself, but it makes economic sense. He was born on the state’s dole, but through the ADA he was able to become someone who could contribute to our society. he went from food stamps to paying taxes that end up going to other people’s food stamps. Isn’t that the best outcome? Independence rather than dependence?

So when we talk about the excesses of the ADA and other laws, lets by all means correct it, but let’s not throw out the paraplegic with the bathwater.

18 Bill Poser 10.21.09 at 4:57 pm

I once visited someone (the sister of a friend’s ex-wife) who actually kept a live, female black widow spider as a pet, in an aquarium in her bedroom. All it had by way of a lid was a sheet of glass laid across the top, unsecured. To my knowledge she never tried to take it on a plane or into a shop with her, but it’s still creepy. (I can understand people with a scientific interest in or amateur fascination with such creatures keeping them, but as pets, in the bedroom, inadequately secured?)

19 Richard Nieporent 10.21.09 at 5:40 pm

A.W., did you ever hear of the case of PGA Tour, Inc. v. Casey Martin?

http://www.equipforequality.org/programs/legaladvocacy/summary_pga.php

Now explain to me how the law is being narrowly interpreted. No reasonable person would begrudge a company making reasonable accommodations to enable someone with a disability to hold a job, but that does not mean that every claim of a disability must be accommodated. That is what we are talking about in this post.

20 Bob Lipton 10.21.09 at 6:01 pm

The key word in all this blather is the interpretation of the word ‘reasonable.’ This is, for want of a couple of days of discourse and several hundred thousand words, a stupid word to put into any law, since all that it means is that someone who wishes to claim that he needs to travel around with a monkey, a spider or a rabid vampire bat can produce a coherent argument in favor of doing so and can simply handwave away any objection. After all, I need my rabid vampire bat, and your objection that it might bite you or trigger allergies or trigger off an episode due to your disability which is a phobia of bats is an unreasonable imposition on me.

Bob

21 Random Reader 10.21.09 at 10:28 pm

AW–

What on Earth are you talking about?

I am not saying people should be “locked up” or “have their freedom taken away” to punish them. I’m saying that people as severely mentally ill as some of these people claim to be would simply not be able to function. I was expressing my scepticism about the existence of devastating, incapacitating psychiatric disorders that can be alleviated by– and only by– the presence of someone’s pet what’s-it. I’d say if that works, so would breathing exercises.

As for the non-emotional support animals– well, yes, some of course have a point, but in other cases their owner is simply kidding himself about what the animal is doing and/or attention-seeking. Cf. the snake guy (who is about the last person who should be walking around

As for the quote– yeah, I agree some allergy sufferers go overboard. The point is that here we have who wants special measures taken to accommodate him being completely unsympathetic to others who want special accommodation that conflicts with his.

It’s called blatant hypocrisy.

I don’t think anyone was talking about throwing out all protection for the disabled– however it is pretty clear that the laws are being abused, and thus need fixing. There must be some weakness in the way they’re worded or interpreted in the first place– i have never heard of this nonsense happening anywhere else.

Guess what? I’m a nice person. I’m a nice, kind, left-leaning person from a country with heaps more social welfare than the US. I have relatives and friends who work with the handicapped. I am highly sympathetic to their plight. I am well aware that real discrimination exists.

See? I think this stuff is crazy. It’s not just American conservatives!

Let me guess. You’re a disability activist, right? If so, I’m not going to argue with you any more, because based on previous experience there’s simply no point. Yes, I’m now guilty of stereotyping and maybe I’m being totally unfair to you– but I’ve been here before, and the way you seem to wilfully misinterpret my previous posts, does not bode well.

Goodbye.

22 Random Reader 10.21.09 at 10:30 pm

Accidentally deleted part of a sentence in my last post. It should have read,

Cf. the snake guy (who is about the last person who should be walking around with a boa constrictor coiled around his neck.)

23 Random Reader 10.22.09 at 1:35 am

Just one last thing–

@David Schwartz-
That the Department of Justice has to have rules about such things shows how massively screwed up our society is.

I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I’d say it’s a combination of a rushed, badly worded law and, perhaps, certain aspects of American culture– e.g. it has already been my observation that either US citizens are considerably more prone to playing the “wooden leg game” than people from elsewhere, or else those who do are more vocal about it. It also seems– to echo what I said above (#8) that such behaviour is given far too much social sanction in America– maybe that’s because Americans are idealistic rather than because they’re screwed up. I don’t know.

24 A.W. 10.22.09 at 10:26 am

Random

> I am not saying people should be “locked up” or “have their freedom taken away” to punish them. I’m saying that people as severely mentally ill as some of these people claim to be would simply not be able to function.

Ah, so you want to do it for compassionate reasons. I am sure they will appreciate that. Sorry, but that statement was over the top. There is a middle ground.

> Let me guess. You’re a disability activist, right?

No, just a guy who has disabilities and faced discrimination.

And maybe you didn’t mean to imply that the ADA shouldn’t be in place, but you kind of did, and I get that vibe from a lot of people on this site. The truth is EVERY LAW is abused. But too many people single out the ADA’s abuses, even though there is no evidence that it is uniquely given to abuse, in a clear attempt to say it shouldn’t exist at all. And yeah, that notion offends me to the core.

But that being said, if you didn’t mean to imply that then you didn’t deserve that textual tongue lashing and I apologize.

25 Patrick 10.22.09 at 5:50 pm

All of your comments are nice and all, and this heated discussion is worthwhile, but it disturbs me that no one has noted that this post has one of the funniest headlines you’ll ever read.

I shot a bit of coffee out of my nose when I read this yesterday morning. It hurt!

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