WeHo’s Disabilities Board Addresses Dogs in Shops and Grocery Stores

pavilions, service animals, disability advisory board
A dog in a shopping cart at Pavilions in West Hollywood.

West Hollywood’s Disability Advisory Board voted 6 to 1 last night to form a short-term subcommittee to address ways to inform and educate the public about service animals. The move comes amid growing community concerns about people taking animals, almost always dogs, into businesses and public buildings when those animals are not actually trained to assist a person with a disability.

Board chair Yola Dore said that abuse of laws requiring that businesses accommodate service animals hurts people with real disabilities.

“It hurts the disabled community when some people take what they say is a service animal to places like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Target, and they play ball with these reported service animals, their pets jump all over people and get frisky and they say, ‘But this is a service animal’.” Dore said. “Then, when a person with a real need who happens to have a service animal comes forward, the business owner feels leery to welcome you in and/or to be more helpful.”

service animal, disabilities advisory board
Checking out at Pavilions with the dog.

The issue is a hot topic among West Hollywood residents who see more and more dogs being brought into grocery stores, gyms, bars and shops. WEHOville recently ran an editorial questioning whether all these dogs are service animals.

.During a presentation to the board, Steve Wayland, program director of PAWS/LA (Pets are Wonderful Support), an animal support/service agency founded in 1989 by West Hollywood resident Nadia Sutton, explained that the laws always favor people with disabilities.

“The [California] state law says if there is a conflict between the state and federal law, the law that is more favorable to the person with the disability is the law that prevails,” Wayland said.

The laws makes a distinction between service animals and emotional support/companion animals.

Service animals are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities, such as seeing-eye dogs for the blind or a dog trained to sense oncoming seizures in its owner. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enacted in 1990, allows a service animals to accompany its owner into any business, public building or on public transportation. Even if health code regulations bar animals from entering a business, the ADA supersedes those laws and allows service animals to enter. The ADA only recognizes dogs and miniature horses as service animals.

Emotional support or companion animals are not trained to perform a specific task. Housing laws allow seniors and disabled people to have up to two companion animals in their apartments, even if it is a “No Pets” building. However, there is no public accommodation for companion animals, which means they are not allowed in businesses, public buildings or on buses or other public transportation.

The problem is trying to distinguish between service animals and companion animals.

“How do you determine if someone is out in public with a service animal?” asked Wayland. “The answer is, ‘We don’t and we can’t.’ The law doesn’t allow for that anymore.”

Federal regulations prohibit anyone from being required to provide proof that his or her animal is registered or certified as a service animal, Wayland said. In the past there have been attempts to create a registry of disabled people with service animals. Those attempts have been made at the request of some people owning service animals, but were met with resistance.

If someone enters a business with an animal, the owner or an employee is only allowed to ask two questions: “Is that a service animal?” and “What is the animal trained to do?”

The law does not provide any mechanism to challenge the answers the animal’s owner gives to those two questions. However, if someone is somehow found to be falsely claiming an animal is a service animal, he or she can be charged with a misdemeanor, jailed for up to six months and fined $1,000.

Conversely, interfering with the rights of a disabled person, such as denying him or her access to a facility, is also a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $2,500. For that reason, business owners are unlikely to challenge someone claiming an animal is a service animal.

Wayland explained that approximately 20% of the American public has some form of disability and half of that 20% have an “invisible disability,” i.e., the disability is not evident to the general public.

Wayland suggested that education is the best way to deal with situation. Board member Tom Demille agreed and proposed creating a fun educational video that would get people talking about the distinctions between service and companion animals. Board member Suzanne Dietrich suggested the ADA should be revised to included clearer definitions of service animals.

service animal, disabilities advisory board
Taking a look down the aisle at Pavilions.

The three-member subcommittee that the board agreed to form will consist of Yola Dore, Rick Watts and Louise Smith. They will meet in the coming weeks and return with recommendations that will be presented to the City Council for approval.

Board member Joy Freiberg voted against creating the subcommittee, saying there were more important items the board should be dealing with such as housing, homelessness, hunger and substance abuse.

“How is this helping anybody’s disability?” asked Freiberg, explaining her no vote.
Speaking during the public comment session, former board member Michael Wojtkielewicz, who has a service dog, also questioned why the board was addressing this issue when it had yet to take action to ensure that Hart Park was accessible to the handicapped.

Located off Sunset Boulevard near Sweetzer Avenue, Hart Park has the city’s only off-leash dog park. Wojtkielewicz said it was more important for residents with disabilities to be able to get to the off-leash dog park than to worry about people abusing the service animal designation.

“Service animals need a place to run, service animals need exercise,” Wojtkielewicz said. “The one and only off-leash dog park, and it remains inaccessible . . . and this body never took it up.”

After the board meeting, Wayland told WEHOville that another way to handle to problem was to create laws regarding animal behavior.

“If we just allow people to have their well-behaved dogs with them, then we would get this whole thing off the table,” Wayland said. “It wouldn’t be about trying to determine whether someone is disabled, it would just be if the animal is well behaved, then its appropriate to have it out in public, if it’s not, it isn’t.

“It’s the same standard, if somebody who is disabled has a service animal who is misbehaving, then they can be barred. That’s the standard that someone can bar you from public accommodation, not because you don’t believe they are disabled, but because the animal is misbehaving.”


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Dan Morin
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Dan Morin

In a previous comment, I urged people to attend the next City Council meeting and share your view on this matter. I now suggest you wait until, hopefully, this matter can be an agenda item and also because the Council meeting this Monday (May 15) will include the coronation of Heilman and Duran. Too much going on.

blueeyedboy
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voolavex
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Late to the party. However I can assure you that when you are an employee of a grocery store (in particular) the issue with “service” animals is fraught with problems. For an opener – dogs on leashes walk on streets and roadways and their paws get very dirty. They dig in the grass which is often poopy due to scofflaws who don’t scoop. When a sign on a store excludes – for example – “bare feet” do you ever wonder why? Insurance makes somethings a liability. From personal knowledge – the laxness of the “service” animal law needs a little… Read more »

Woof
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Woof

Just sayin’ but Pit Bulls seem to be selected by those that want to portray a “Don’t F…k w/ me attitude….I can do what I want as it’s a free country.” Recently I observed a woman shopping @ Trader Joe’s with a somewhat elderly charcoal lab mix with graying snout. She seemed to travel my path throughout the store and noticed he kept putting his nose into everything as he ambled along. After check out he made a bee line to the water bowl outside which prompted me to politely ask if her dog was a service dog. Yes. Does… Read more »

blueeyedboy
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blueeyedboy

City Council needs to consider doing something about pit bull dogs, which are banned in many American cities, and in several countries, including England, Ireland, Scotland, and several others. There is a reason for that! Doesn’t it call for, at least, an examination of the issue?

In the second link below you can see the stats on the most dangerous breeds of dogs, with pit bulls, by far, being the most dangerous.

I’m very surprised at how many pit bull dogs I see in WeHo.

http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/barbara-kay-what-pit-bull-activism-says-about-our-culture

http://www.dogsbite.org/dangerous-dogs-pit-bull-owners.php

blueeyedboy
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blueeyedboy

It seems that the responses here could serve as a proxy for those of us who are unable to attend. If the council members want to know how we feel I would think they would have been following this discussion. Do our voices mean nothing unless we are standing right in front of them?

Dan Morin
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Dan Morin

I brought this matter before the City Council on March 20. On March 22, Hank Scott posted an article “Let’s Discuss: Are Pooches a Problem in Public Places?” which he has confirmed was inspired by my comments. Somehow DAB picked up on this and now it has snowballed into these seemingly never ending entries. I am delighted as this, even since March, has become more pervasive. I asked someone at CVS (SMB and LaCienega) with a pit bull, no less, if that was a service dog. Yes, I was told. What service does the dog provide, I inquired. Oh, I… Read more »

blueeyedboy
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blueeyedboy

I’m reminded of New York City’s broken windows theory of urban decay back in the ’90s, which holds that minor disorders and violations create a permissive atmosphere that leads to further and more serious crimes that can threaten the safety of a city. It wasn’t all that long ago that I never would have believed anyone would have the gall to bring a dog into a store or restaurant, or, even more, that management would allow it! We’ve become a city of “Paris Hiltons”!

Roz
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Roz

A lot of interesting points here, but one i have not seen mentioned is that when a customer is suspected of lying about a service dog, the burden of proof is on the business owner, meaning the business owner has to take them to court. Most businesses won’t spend the money to do this, so the problem increases. To top it off, the employees responsible for enforcing this policy are typically underpaid and overworked b/c retail/food industry is all about cutting labor to mitigate low sales right now. Even places that have security usually have a near-minimum wage rent-a-cop b/c… Read more »

Woof!
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Woof!

NO DOGS ALLOWED!
Except those assisting blind or deaf persons..

This is the sign at the U. S. Post Office. It has universal appeal.

A small amount of research will illustrate the evolution of dogs that legitimately assist and are realistic/legal service dogs. It started with Seeing Eye Dogs trained in Morristown, N.J., a school I became acquainted with as a child. It’s worth knowing the facts.

blueeyedboy
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blueeyedboy

Are dogs a problem in public places? In a word …. YES, it’s a problem! The crazy older guy with multi-colored hair and beard who takes his pit bull into 24 hour Fitness locker room and the work-out floor and claims the dog is a service dog. I checked and found out there is no such thing as a pit bull service dog. When I informed management of this, they (he) wimped out and said there is nothing they can do. The lady, also at 24 Hour Fitness, who has her dog on the workout floor that she lets walk… Read more »

Cino
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Cino

What the hell does Europe have to do with how we live in America? Clearly, you feel the need to imitate or pretend to be European (god only knows why). I have lived in Europe, so what part of Europe are you taking about, France? Cause you had surely never bring a dog into an Italian restaurant or grocery store. Or in England, Spain. Americans do not like dogs around their food unless they are ADA service dogs. Get used to it and get over some silly fake pretending to be French. Get caught pretending your dog is a service… Read more »

Jim Chud
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Jim Chud

I agree, lived/worked in UK, France, Ger, Hol, Ita – this was late 80s – early 90s – in Paris, certain days of week, water was run in the streets to wash to doggie doo doo off of the sidewalks and streets – people would put out these rugs to direct the flo. I have no idea if that is still done, but let me tell you – even though it happens early in morning – 5:30-6am, The stench was really onerous in the hot summers. I would hope, but can’t be sure if they have laws requiring owners to… Read more »