Q: Our office’s meeting room hosts classes for members of an association or group to get continuing education or learn about issues important to their business. It seems like many are bringing their dogs to the meetings. Do we need to allow the dogs into the meeting? We are worried about the dogs ruining the property or engaging in distracting or violent behavior. What can we do?
A: If you have a business that allows visitors and members into the building’s classroom for classes or meetings, it is likely a public accommodation that must accept service animals but does not need to accept emotional support animals. Trained dogs (and in limited cases miniature horses or small capuchin monkeys) are the only species of animals that may qualify as service animals under the ADA and Colorado law. Emotional support animals are expressly precluded from qualifying as service animals under the ADA as it relates to public accommodations. Other public accommodations generally include hotels, lodging, museums, restaurants, trains, buses, stores, shelters, auditorium, sports stadiums, theaters, gyms, bowling alleys, zoos, parks, libraries, food banks, and educational institutions.
Service dogs can do a wide variety of things like be a guide dog for the visually impaired, help push a wheelchair, help sturdy a person with balance issues, help someone with a hearing impairment detect alarms, help push elevator buttons, fetch dropped items, alert someone that they are about to have a seizure or go into diabetic shock, alert a person that they need to take medication or lay down, alert someone of allergens, alert someone of PTSD or an anxiety reaction and calm them down by pushing against them, help someone with self-destructive behavior to stop, and perform other trained tasks.
Service dogs should be under the control of a person but do not necessarily need to be leashed if the task or service it performs would be disrupted by being tethered. They do not need to show a vest or paperwork and you can’t ask for paperwork. You cannot ask a person what their disability is. If it’s not apparent what the dog does, you can ask if the dog is a service dog and what service it is trained to provide. If a service dog is not toilet trained, is disruptive, is aggressive, is excessively barking or snapping at another dog or person and the owner cannot or will not control it, it can be asked to leave. An owner can be asked to pay for any damage caused by the service animal to property.
You may want to consider posting brochures from your applicable government authorities explaining these things, and tell people that only service animals are allowed in the building and that they will be asked to leave if they are aggressive, disruptive, can’t be controlled or if they cause any property damage and that the owners will be liable for any property damage or injuries caused by the animal. You cannot ask the person to have the dog demonstrate the task or service it performs. Emotional support animals only have to be allowed in housing not in your classroom. As every situation is different, consult an attorney with particular questions. Please contact Cindy Manzano regarding service animals or emotional support animal questions and businesses, employment issues, and/or housing issues.