This spring, the legal protections provided to the owners of many service animals by federal law will be going away. But the Hesperia City Council may act Jan. 5 to keep many of those protections in place locally.
The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act requires, among other provisions, that “a public accommodation shall modify policies, practices or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability.” The ADA defined a “service” animal as any animal trained to assist a disabled person.
According to the federal Department of Justice, since the ADA’s passage, many animals other than dogs have been brought into businesses around the country as service animals, including pigs, miniature horses, snakes, iguanas, parrots and monkeys. In addition, the DOJ said many people have abused the system, falsely claiming their pets were service animals.
On March 15, the definition of service will be tightened up, permitting only the use of dogs, and only for certain specific uses. The change in the law doesn’t apply to federal employment or housing laws -- disabled people with service animals other than dogs will still be protected by federal law in those capacities -- but it does mean that merchants can bar animals other than service dogs from their places of business.
Hesperia woman Dani Moore (pictured) will be directly affected by the change in the law, as her service animals are a pair of rats trained to give early warning of spasms related to her fibromyalgia, allowing her to treat her symptoms before she’s fully in the grip of them.
“They can literally fracture my vertebrae,” Moore said Thursday. “Before I got my service rats, I was a prisoner of my pain.”
Moore prevailed upon Councilman Thurston “Smitty” Smith to have the city step in and ensure that the ADA protections that would be going away for many of the service animals would still remain in place in Hesperia.
“We’ve got to do something, in my opinion, before March,” Smith said Wednesday. “I don’t want to put a financial burden for any businesses,” though.
“I’ve got kind of mixed feelings on it,” said Mayor Mike Leonard. “I don’t feel it’s our job to tell restaurants and other businesses what can and can’t be in there.”
City staff will not be presenting the council with any recommendations, but will instead be looking for direction from council members. If the council gives the staff the go-ahead to draft some new rules, they’ll likely require some sort of proof from a medical doctor that any given animal is a medical necessity.
“If you’ve got [documentation] from a M.D., then that’s fine,” said Leonard.
“I would love to see Hesperia become a shining example of how to support your citizens,” Moore said. “All your citizens.”
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
The Hesperia Star in Calif.
Posted by BA Haller at 1:06 PM