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Emotional Support Animals: Has ADA Gone too Far?

March 16, 2012
by Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D.
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Wither ADA


In the city where I work, a few  months ago a customer walked into a nonprofit organization’s thrift  shop and  plunked an unrestrained Chihuahua onto  the checkout counter.   The customer then  handed  the volunteer who was working a card that said  according to the Americans with Disabilities Act you can be fined up to $10,000, for refusing to serve disabled people who use emotional support animals.  A  client of the not-for-profit who was working at the checkout counter, who happen to have health problems and an allergy to dogs,  which resulted in a “dueling disabilities” scenario.  

ADA  requires that businesses, that serve the public, refrain from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Business concerns must allow people with disabilities to bring service animals onto their premises in all areas where customers are generally allowed. They cannot segregate people with service animals from other customers. They also cannot charge higher prices, cleaning fees, or require a security deposit. Businesses may charge for damages that service animals cause, as long as it is the usual business practice for any customer who causes damage.

Most of us think of the famous “Seeing Eye” dogs” when we think of service animals, but today a wide variety of animals are  used for all sorts of assistive tasks. Animals are used to help people with hearing impairments, detect seizures, obtain help, pull wheelchairs, carry and pick up items, help with balance, and most recently offer emotional support.

If emotional support is included  as a   assistive task, almost any animal can qualify. In addition to every sort of dog possible, monkeys, goats, miniature horses, ponies, pigs, and even ducks have been used. The duck in question was dressed in doll’s clothing and was routinely taken into places of business. Thankfully some animals such as reptiles, rodents and spiders are exempted from the usual service animal rules.



Terry Stawar

President/CEO (LifeSpring, Inc.)

Terry Stawar



Terry L. Stawar, EdD, is President and CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems, a community behavioral...

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