You see service animals everywhere ––– in parks, venue and restaurants.
But what is the regulation for these helpers when it comes to food contamination or other health safety regulations?
According to American with Disabilities Act‘s website, service animals are defined as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”
Disabilities include the person being blind, deaf, in a wheelchair or suffering from PTSD.
Emotional support animals or comfort animals are not considered service animals under those guidelines. However, new ADA guidelines have a specific rule applying to miniature horses.
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And by law, restaurants and other public establishments such as business, government agencies and nonprofits, must allow service animals in their facilities.
Daroon Bargash, owner of Brickhouse Tavern in Williamsburg and Newport News, said the restaurant is pet-friendly and they provide dog water bowls and food.
The pets must be leashed and are allowed in a designated area of the restaurant ––– the patio.
When it comes to service or emotional support animals, Bargash said the animals needs to have a vest on and have their paperwork with them.
“The behavior of the dog is important,” he said, adding some of his customers have had bad experiences with dogs. “At the end of the night, we are a food handler.”
In the past, Bargash said he has had issues with customers claiming their pet is actually a service animal.
While some restaurants have had unpleasant experiences with service animals, others not so much.
Kate Huff, co-owner at Tuscany Ristorante in Williamsburg, said she has never had to deal with a person being allergic to a service animal or a dog at the restaurant. Nor has she had a service animal act out.
“I don’t think it would ever be a problem,” Huff said. “We can put them in a separate area of the restaurant.
Huff noted the restaurant is very pet-friendly, adding regular customers come with their pets and sit outside on the patio.
“We never had problem with anyone claiming it’s a service animal when it isn’t,” Huff said.
When asked about food contamination, Huff said the restaurant does not allow dogs in the kitchen.
“People have service animals for a reason,” Huff said. “If a restaurant will not accommodate her or her service animal, where is she going to go?”
Gary Hagy, environmental health manager at the Peninsula Health District, said restaurant staff are not supposed to interact with the service animal and that includes using restaurant dishes to serve them food.
At the end of the day, it’s up the restaurant’s discretion whether they allow someone in the restaurant.
However, a person being allergic or afraid of dogs are not valid reasons for refusing service to people with service animals, according to the Disability Rights section of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
“When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, for example, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility,” according to the DOJ regulation.
Hagy noted it is “unfortunate” people try and pass off their animals as service animals.
“That makes it tougher on people who do have service animals,” Hagy said.