ADA: Feds withdraw “service animal” backing for ferrets, snakes

by Walter Olson on March 13, 2011

I’ve got an op-ed in today’s New York Post. It begins:

For the service goat, assistance monkey and emotional-support iguana, it could be the end of an era. Under new federal rules taking effect Tuesday, the Americans with Disabilities Act will no longer compel shops, restaurants and other businesses to accommodate a menagerie of supposed service animals brought in by the public. Only dogs and some miniature horses will qualify. Moreover, dogs will qualify as service animals only if they’ve been individually trained to assist with a disabled human’s needs.

“The provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this new definition.” And they’ll need to be on-leash unless their work requires otherwise.

Finally. You’d think the Obama administration had, in a fit of common sense, for once chosen to heed a public outcry about zany regulations-gone-mad.

But as usual, the politics are more complicated than that. …

Read the whole thing here. Relatedly, Kevin at Lowering the Bar has some free advice for persons with service monkeys, namely that their allegations of service-animal status are more likely to win favor if they don’t dress up four of the little guys in pirate costumes on Bourbon St. in New Orleans’ French Quarter. And from Olympia, Wash.’s KPTV: “Man with service snake lobbies against bill.

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The silence of the goats
03.16.11 at 12:05 am


1 Sukie Crandall 03.13.11 at 12:33 pm

It is downright silly to over-legislate this.

There actually was a cheap, existing system which could have been used, instead, to be be most fair to everyone.

Many people are allergic to dogs and horses.

In addition, there actually are a number of people with seizure disorders who have found that their existing pets notify them in time before a seizure to take meds and avoid further damage. I know of four whose personal ferrets learned to do this on their own, and have read of someone whose rabbit does it.

People who have upper body use difficulties need species with hands for better independence.

Who are the best people to decide when an animal is a service animal? The treating physicians are.

Which inexpensive, existing system could have been used? The same one that allows for handicapped parking placards.

What it does make sense to have better legal control over is who can be sold a service dog vest for a dog because currently merchants are not as careful as one would like.

This really IS a situation of over-lawyering when a simple, inexpensive and markedly more fair solution was already available.

2 Mark Phaedrus 03.13.11 at 9:22 pm

Unfortunately, I think there are at least two problems with the “treat service animal permits like handicapped placards” idea.

First, there’s the problem of overuse. In most places in the US, any physician can write an authorization for a handicapped placard. Since physicians want to keep good relations with their patients — and because patients who are refused authorization can go to another physician, and another, and another — this means that patients who really want a placard can often get one even if they don’t actually fit the qualifications for one. I would certainly expect that service animal permits would wind up being overauthorized in the same way.

But with handicapped placards, there’s at least something of a natural check on this tendency to overauthorize: there are only so many handicapped parking spaces to go around. So if the doctors in a given community get too lax about standards for issuing permits, then the handicapped spaces fill up, and people with handicapped permits cannot find parking, and they put pressure on government to fix the problem, and permit rules get changed, and standards get tightened, and many of the dubious permits get revoked. I’ve seen this cycle play out a number of times in the communities I’ve lived in.

In contrast, there is no natural limit on the amount of service-animal permits that can be given out. If I have a permit, then I can always take my animal into the store, regardless of how many animals are already there. So I have a hard time seeing how we wouldn’t just wind up back where we are now — with people classifying their pets as ‘service animals’, and with resentment falling on all service animals as a result, including the ones that truly perform needed services.

Second, unfortunately, you seem to only be looking at this from the point of view of the customer. There’s another point of view that has to be considered: the point of view of the store owner, who legally has to accommodate service animals. You’ve said it yourself: some people are allergic to (or just plain fearful of) various types of animals. And if you run a store, and you or your employees are the allergic/fearful ones, that can be a huge problem. As a store owner, you need to be able to plan for how to deal with all your customers, including the ones requiring ADA accommodations. In order to do that, you need to have at least some idea of the sort of situations you will have to encounter. If you know that a few customers will bring in dogs, you can plan on that — you can make sure that there’s at least one clerk scheduled for each shift who has no problem dealing with dogs, and so on. But what happens if someone brings in, say, a service ferret, and an employee becomes sick, and it turns out that that’s because he or she is allergic to ferrets and never knew it (because he or she had never been near a ferret before)? What if a customer gets sick?

3 Smart Dude 03.13.11 at 11:34 pm

I am a ferocious advocate for the handicapped. But I personally begin to wheeze and my throat and lungs begin to close up at even the slightest exposure to certain animals listed on the so-called “service animal” list. Don’t asthmatics and anaphylaxis prone humans have any rights?

Moreover these animals are vectors for the spread of potentially lethal bacteria and viruses. There is a serious public health hazard with these critters carrying Salmonella, MRSA, Hepatitis A, etc, etc.

4 Don 03.14.11 at 11:13 am

But what happens if someone brings in, say, a service ferret, and an employee becomes sick, and it turns out that that’s because he or she is allergic to ferrets and never knew it (because he or she had never been near a ferret before)? What if a customer gets sick?

Having been a ferret owner before, there is another problem with ferrets that most people don’t know. Humans and ferrets are susceptible to the same flu viruses. Ferrets can catch the flu from humans and humans can catch the flu from ferrets. In ferrets, it tends to be a little more lethal too.

As much as I liked my ferrets, I would never have taken them to some public space during cold and flu season. My fear, my ferrets would get sick and die from some human flu carrier.

5 Sukie Crandall 03.14.11 at 1:45 pm

My husband reacts severely to horses and I react to dogs. Meanwhile, I have glaucoma but am grateful for early detection, meds, and ALT surgery for that since it is under control enough and I can adjust to my areas of missing vision. That may not always continue to be the case, but hopefully will be. Not everyone is as fortunate. With glaucoma alone about half of the people in the U.S. who get it do not have regular eye pressure examinations and as a result do not have it found until it is beyond control.

In relation to allergies, all of us with serious allergies realize that we might encounter something which can nail us each time we go somewhere. It might be someone cooking a lot of something which is going airborne, or an animal, or a perfume, or a pollen, or something else. That’s why people carry 2 epipens, steroids (or Singulair to reduce lung inflammation if a person has glaucoma since if the steroids must be used they can blind a person who has glaucoma), an antihistamine like Benedryl, and inhalers. Over the decades a person gets used to leaving a place where an allergen is present, though sometimes the cause of the allergy can be removed instead with people usually being very understanding (and on an airplane if a passenger is at risk of going into anaphylactic shock with a certain food the menus can be adjusted beforehand to not serve that food to anyone due to recirculation of air if the airline is informed beforehand).

While some allergens are simply more likely to cause allergic reactions in people, for example, crustaceans, many everyday things become allergens due to the individual having had many exposures. So, for example, with food allergies the allergies are typically to common foods or favorite foods since they are eaten a lot. That makes sense when you realize how allergies occur. First the body misidentifies a benign protein compound as being an invader, then the NEXT time there is an exposure the body reacts. The more exposures there are the greater the risk of the body misidentifying something. Some families are more prone to allergies, and the times of life when most allergies begin are those when the immune system is strongest, though anyone can develop allergies and at any time. The dangers in an allergic reaction are completely from the body’s own defenses being overdone. Those dangers can range from suffocation, to low enough blood pressure to kill, to mucus membrane tissue death, and more.

That plays a part in why so many more people are allergic to common animals like dogs than they are to less common ones like ferrets or rabbits, though such allergies do happen, but at a far lower rate of occurrence among individuals.

The allergy problem, I think, is a greater one, NOT for exposures of other people who can avoid the animals in many public settings or have them removed temporarily, but for the individuals who need to live with an aid problem. Having only two options makes even having an aid animal impossible for many because it just is not possible to interact and live with the cause of a serious allergy. So, limiting options for those with handicaps prevents some from getting help.

I do worry about those who have seizures because they are at risk of additional brain damage with each major seizure so eliminating seizure alert animals who gave warning in time to avoid a seizure keeps them safer and more independent. Two of the four people I know of who used ferrets for that purpose were in accidents not of their making; one was was just walking when she was struck by a hit and run driver, something which could happen to anyone.

As to the placards and permits: my own experience not many years ago when i was recovering from a peripheral neuromuscular disease and relearning to walk was that my physician chose to NOT provide a placard and told me just to not go out if it was icy because he wanted to force me to walk as much as possible despite the pain. I needed to for recovery, and i did. In fact, I don’t need daytime braces or even a cane any longer. So, take it from someone who was in braces for 18 months and getting PT three times a week for 8 months that physicians should NOT be assumed to okay things like handicapped placards without cause. I’ve heard people who never needed such things worry about that possible abuse, but from families have instead heard exactly the opposite — that the physicians are very much UNinclined to provide those unless a person absolutely needs them and can not be helped by not having them.

6 Sukie Crandall 03.14.11 at 2:07 pm

Your points are good ones, but I hope that you can see mine, too.

BTW, I AM used to a retailer’s viewpoint. I was raised in a retail family and was in retail management as an adult for other corporations than my family’s until I put myself through college.

I am not saying that access by service animals should be abused, but neither should those who need such animals be abused. Both situations are currently happening, but the “solution” helps one set while largely forgetting the needs of the other. What is needed is a lot more courtesy, communication, and better understanding of the needs of each party by both sides. That is sorely lacking. If I can’t get on a airplane because someone with a seeing eye dog needs to be on it, then so be it, but someone with a seeing eye dog also needs to respect that I can’t be next to that dog or down wind of it elsewhere. I love dogs but I need to breathe. With options and communication many problems can be better solved and more fairly solved than with extreme restrictions. We are adults who can listen to and comprehend the needs of others, not grade schoolers who are still developing such abilities and need more imposed control.

I’d like to see a middle way which could help both sides.

Will there be a few rare people who are argumentative or worse? Of course. Anyone in retail management has encountered such people and usually NOT in situations involving an aid animal. I can think of three times in my management career when it was necessary to ask for police help when there was no theft but merely a person who was — uh, let’s just say “far less than stable and very overt about it”. It happens, and if it happens with someone who has a service animal then the problem is just the same as if it had happened with one who doesn’t have a service animal. Poor behavior is poor behavior, with or without a service animal.

7 Sukie Crandall 03.14.11 at 2:42 pm

Zoonotics, diseases which can be shared by humans and animals, came up, and I forgot to address those though a brief primer on those may be useful, so I hope this is enjoyed:

Zoonotics are more common among taxonomically close species, and more common with direct exposures, so things like eating apes as bushmeat can really be asking for trouble (and is probably how AIDS first got into humans, BTW, first from a type of less dangerous monkey virus gotten by chimps who preyed upon monkeys resulting in an ape form of the virus and then later by humans eating chimps resulting in a further modified human form of the virus). Taxonomic closeness is one reason that primates, including humans, share as many diseases as they do with rodents. Rodents are more closely related to us than the members of carnivora are. Dogs, cats, ferrets, and a number of other animals are all members of Carnivora, not Rodentia. (Ferrets are in one of the most recent offshoots of the dog branch, the Mustelids.)

Now, some illnesses DO get shared pretty widely. Those include some serious illnesses like some mycobacteria and SARS, as well as some illnesses which can become serious, especially when secondary infections happen. A number of domestic species (both companion ones and agricultural ones) and wild species can get and sometimes spread such illnesses. Some of the illnesses have vaccines that are also used for animals. For example, a range of animals, including dogs, cats, and ferrets can be and are routinely vaccinated against rabies, and some farm mammals can also be.

That second category of illnesses which can become severe includes influenza. Yes, ferrets do get some types of influenza. They can also pass it along but that is rare for the simple reason that their sneezes and coughs are so tiny compared to human ones with fewer droplets and less propulsion so you would have to pretty much hold a contagious ferret right up to your face and be sneezed on while doing that to get influenza from a ferret. (At that, actually, is exactly how a British researcher first figured out that ferrets get some forms of influenza back in the first half of the 20th century.)

So, yes, during flu season taking a ferret into a store certainly could be asking for trouble for the ferret, and if someone held an already infected ferret up to his or her face perhaps for a person, too though the chances of ferret to human transmission are incredibly lower than human to ferret transmission or human to human transmission.

BTW, the longer species live together very closely the wider the range of shared zoonotic diseases, so dogs who have lived in close contact with humans for many millennia have far more zoonotics than their cousins the ferrets who have been domesticated for only about 2,500 years, but usually as working animals who did not live in the houses till recent centuries. Taxonomic closeness still trumps that, though. Rodents carry a lot of things people can get.

Some illnesses are simply easier to get, too, for example, salmonella from herps (reptiles and amphibians) and sometimes birds.

8 Rebecca Stout 03.14.11 at 3:34 pm

It is common knowledge that most people whom are allergic to dogs and/or cats are far less if allergic to ferrets at all. I am now allergic to ferrets when I wasn’t my entire life. However, I can tolerate a tiny ferret sitting next to me on a bus far far better than a dog (who can be equivelant to 10 ferrets ore more in size!). Horses? A lot of people are highly allergic to them. Very scary if you ask me being that those reactions can be so severe.
Yes, there is an issue with flu season for both humans and ferrets to consider. However dogs can transmit an even more serious disease, strep.
On the subject of leniency with service animal registration, I’ve seen the opposite problem in people abiding by the ADA laws regarding dogs alone let alone any thing else. Birmingham AL during 80′s was ignorant to service animals. Very hard to use them. I never saw ONE in the 8 years I lived there. Chattanooga, I’m not sure how easy or not easy it is to use a service animal… because I”ve yet to see a single one in ten years in the city other than a student at the local college! People are not taking advantage of it in the places I’ve been.
As far as parking placards? I have a 30 year old severely handicapped Downs and Autistic nephew that can not walk well and can’t run. Yet he has never been able to get a placard in South Jersey. I have/had a handicapped son with very mild CP and autism that did get a placard in Chattanooga TN. They are reasonable with giving them out here without being lenient at all. Doctors in this town do not like giving out orders for placards or anything else. They dont want to get involved or have to go to court to back someone up later. They dont want to put their reputation on the line. There is no lack of patients to worry about someone going to another doctor and there never will be.
I’ve never seen a shortage of handicapped spaces in Chattanooga ever. Or in the small towns I am from in South Jersey. So who here is having a more typical experience? Unless you’ve lived in more than several cities in various states “recently”, we can’t know here. But I find it very interesting that the experiences here are so drastically different.
I think this is ridiculous overkill. And I think there are far better ways to handle this that would make everyone safe and happy. People just need to be educated better about the subject and species involved. Especially the people in government.

9 antiredistributionist 03.14.11 at 9:47 pm

In my experience, many doctors are more than willing to certify serious health conditions and work restrictions for FMLA and ADA purposes on highly questionable grounds despite the significant burdens imposed on the employer. How likely is it that they are more rigorous in certifying the need for a “service animal” or parking permit?

10 Tom T. 03.15.11 at 1:04 pm

Goats are basically just a kind of miniature horses, aren’t they?

11 Disgusted 03.16.11 at 1:04 am

What about physicians who are certified to deem an animal a Service Animal? Then it would not just be any run of the mill doctor allowing this. Assign something like a license as they do for dogs. It only has to have a number which when pulled up would provide a profile on the animal, proving it’s not a fake service animal. The animal must be proven to actually help the person and then maybe pass a small personality test to make sure it’s calm in public and at ease. No one would need to announce any disability out in public- if the animal is debated and police get involved they need but check the number in a database, of which the owner can choose to reveal their disability or not. If a photo of the certified animal pops up and matches, there’s no dispute.

I can only imagine the fear of people who suffer from seizures when they leave the house. I’ve never heard of a news report of a service ferret in trouble. If the ferret is calm and the owner carried a carrier for them, they are on a leash with a harness displaying they are a service animal… If it gives these people peace of mind knowing they are all the more safe from seizures, who are any of us to take that away from them? To me, that is their right to live as safe and happy as possible. Kids have to wear helmets while riding bikes, why take these people’s safety away, too? Just my thoughts…

12 PwdSd 03.27.11 at 3:02 pm

First off to clarify what was in the quoted part “For the service goat, assistance monkey and emotional-support iguana, it could be the end of an era.” Emotional Support animals were never ever included in the ADA of the 1990. As emotional support animals are basic companion animals that comforts / calms the individual. They were and never was trained to do a specific task(s) for said individual. This is not to be confused with Psychiatric Service Dogs or Medical Alert / Respond SD which was added due to the many misinterpretation from the court judges. Well not the Medical as they always was within the old law. Along with that there are two other laws that approves ESA as being part of a service animal law. (ie Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Amendment Act).

Personally I do believe that this Amendment has too much of a limit as there are some other type animals that can truly be *Individually Trained* to perform Specific Tasks for said individual with a disability and not have major health problems for the public. Although I can say the 2008 Amendment was even more limited then this one. As that amendment excluded individuals with disabilities the right to train their own service animals. And a lot more…..

Note on Medical Alert Service Animals what many people get confuse is that it’s just Alert but the real classification is Medical Alert/Respond. The Responding part is actually the part in which people have trained these animals. Although they respond per say to a seizure coming it’s not considered a trained task. However it’s what the animal is trained to do upon on coming seizures and during the seizures as while as after the seizures that makes them a true service animal. This is where many people get confused of the two.

As for Allergies and Fear factors, there is a fine line and always was. This is where two individuals must co-insist with each others differences. The problem is the major abuse of using such factors for discriminating against people with disabilities using service animals. It’s really hard to know what is the real truth and what is just a evil way to discriminate because somebody just don’t want such animal in their space. I’ve seen it way too many times throughout my travels where a business uses such while all along they have pets at home. However there has been on occasion where one has major allergies or fears which cripples their being as it were. And there were always reasonable accommodations to co-insist with each other. (ie at an indoor event one with a service dog and one with out. Usually the two watch for the other and instead of coming up close and personal they make sure they go the opposite way or at least they try).

Now as far as certificates. Let us look at what that actually means as it’s not the same as giving out handicap parking tags for those that drives cars. And let us look at the abuse there. Doctors give such recommendations out which the state then issue. Family members driving same car uses it to park in a 1% area for the disabled. That’s right it’s only 1-5% depending on the size of a parking lot. And out of that percentage is half for vans. So they don’t even get the actual 1 – 5% of such area. And why do they park there! It’s Faster and convenient and they are only going to use it for a second or two. Not thinking about somebody with a disability needing these little areas and cannot.

Now about certification given out to service animals. Not all doctors are even qualified or even know about the different types (categories) of service animals. Unfortunately the medical professionals lack major knowledge of service animals are one of the worse offenders of discrimination. Using Health, Fear and Allergy factors. Again what is such papers! It’s only a piece of paper that tells when the said animal has graduated from doing specific task training. Nothing more and nothing less. It doesn’t tell you that on this particular day the animal team will be responsible. That is why there is a clause in the law that states that a business may tell the handler to remove said animal IF and ONLY IF the handler doesn’t take control of the situation or if the animal is not housebroken. As we read in some articles of this happening. And what about people of other countries visiting the qualifications are different should they not be allowed to have their service animals which by the way 99% of the other countries only recognize dogs as service animals. Some only recognizes guide dogs and not other types of service dogs. What I am getting at is the additional undue burden on not only those living in the United States but those Visiting our countries which gives us additional revenue. Of course no law is perfect we just need to find a middle ground which is hard when people abuses it.

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