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Service Animal Dilemma...Need or Desire?

Golf course operators, like so many in the service industry, are facing another new challenge: customers wanting to bring loving pets with them wherever they go. In years past, it was commonly known that animals were not permitted inside businesses or on golf courses. The only exception being seeing eye dogs.

Seeing eye dogs are easily identifiable. Today, we are hearing about new groups of animals that owners feels are also protected and should be afforded the same privileges. The Americans with Disabilities Association (ADA) is the only federal organization which defines service animals protected by federal law. New animal registration organizations are popping up and causing confusion within the industry. All of these organizations believe their roles in changing public opinion and policy are important.

Currently in addition to Service Animals as defined by the ADA, there is Emotional Service Animals (ESA) and Therapeutic Animals (TA). For most of us over 50 years of age, seeing eye dogs were the only protected animals. But today the ADA no longer attempts to define the type of animal that can be trained and serve as a service animal. This is also true of ESA and TAs.

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit, such as alleviating or mitigating some symptoms of the disability, to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. Emotional support animals are typically dogs and cats, but may include other animals.

Therapeutic animals provide people with therapeutic contact, usually in a clinical setting, to improve their physical, social, emotional and/or cognitive functioning. Like ESAs, these animals provide their owner services that include relieving loneliness, helping with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.

The challenge for business operators is how to limit access to animals protected by the ADA. Regardless of what category the animal may serve, business operators are prohibited from asking the customer what disability they have which warrants permitting them to bring their animal onto the property. The law does, however, allow you to ask questions pertaining to the animal.

Permitted questions are:

  • Is the animal required because of a disability?

  • What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

In addition to these questions, service animals are required to under the control of the owner. This requires they be under leash at all times unless their disability prohibits the use of the leash. Animals must also be housebroken. If animals are found to lack the discipline of a trained service animal, business operators are permitted to request the animal be removed from the property. The guest can be denied service if they fail to keep their animal under control. The National Restaurant Association has published a list of frequently asked questions which can also be applied to golf course operations. Many states have created laws which may further define level of protection to support animals not covered under the ADA.

We acknowledge that many individuals and families have pets that serve and support them emotionally. But while we all desire to take our pets with us wherever we go, desire does not constitute need.

The NGCOA supports all individuals with disabilities and encourages members to ensure their staff and facility are prepared to meet their special needs. The National Alliance for Accessible Golf has published a toolkit to assist you with ensuring your property is prepared to welcome and serve those with disabilities.

Like many other social changes taking place, support animal privileges are changing, and the NGCOA will continue to monitor and update you when your business is affected.

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