On this blog we’ve explored the laws related to service animals and how the ADA’s regulations extend their use far past traditional notions of “seeing eye dogs.” In Wisconsin (admit it, you assumed this blog post was going to have an Aussie connection), a woman is treading new territory by seeking legal recognition to use a kangaroo as a therapy animal. The woman, Diana Moyer, owns several kangaroos and also has a doctor’s note stating that one of the kangaroos—Jimmy—is a therapy animal to assist her in dealing with cancer treatment and depression.
In no way would we ever mock or minimize Ms. Moyer’s medical conditions. Unquestionably, however, her situation raises a number of ADA-related legal issues. First, the ADA does not recognize therapy or companion animals, but rather only service animals that are trained to assist a disabled person. Although this can certainly include mental disabilities, the definition does not extend to animals that provide comfort or emotional support. The ADA also defines service animals to include only dogs and miniature horses. Currently, a vote by the Beaver Dam, Wisconsin City Council is set for June 15, 2015 on an ordinance to allow only ADA approved service animals into restaurants and other public establishments. The City has stated that these restrictions are necessary for resident safety. An adult red kangaroo can grow to over five feet in height and can weigh over one hundred and ninety pounds. They can also leap distances of nearly thirty feet.
If you own or manage a business, it is admittedly unlikely that a kangaroo will walk (hop?) through your door. Nevertheless, it is important to make sure employees are trained to deal with issues that arise when a patron brings in a service animal. Some states and localities also have their own regulations and laws that explicitly allow for comfort or therapy animals, or go beyond the limitations in the ADA on the type of service animals (helper monkeys come to mind) that are allowed in establishments that serve the public. Making sure your employees and managers have proper training and direction for addressing issues involving service animals is an important step for avoiding not only unhappy customers, but also ADA complaints and lawsuits.
Oh, and we will keep you posted on how things turn out for Jimmy later this month…
Update: On June 15, 2015, the Beaver Dam, Wisconsin City Council voted 14-0 to clarify that service animals are defined as dogs and miniature horses (adopting the ADA’s regulations on services animals). Other animals do not qualify and the City does not recognize therapy animals. Police will have the authority to cite individuals who try bring other types of animals (such as kangaroos) into restaurants and other public establishments and facilities.