Washington’s restaurants, grocery stores and bars must continue to accommodate dogs and miniature horses assisting disabled customers, but could refuse access to other types of service animals, under a bill moving through the Legislature.
Supporters say the measure, which cleared the House Rules Committee on Thursday, is necessary to keep customers in establishments where food is sold from trying to pass off ferrets, parrots, monkeys, full-size horses, snakes and lizards as service animals.
The bill would bring the state in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which on March 15 will implement new regulations recognizing only trained dogs and mini horses as service animals.
Current state law defines a service animal as any animal trained to aid a disabled person, and requires that those animals be allowed access to all “places of public resort, accommodation, assemblage or amusement.”
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Under the new bill, only service dogs and mini horses would be allowed in businesses where food is served or sold for human consumption. Additional species of trained service animals would be permitted in other public places.
Supporters say the measure will provide much-needed clarity to employees and patrons of food establishments, and will help address food safety concerns.
“When we don’t have a clear message on what is and is not a service animal – what you can and cannot allow in a restaurant – we have food-related risks that we are opened up to,” said Josh McDonald of the Washington Restaurant Association, who testified in support of the bill at a Feb. 16 legislative hearing.
McDonald and other food industry representatives said customers have attempted to pass off a variety of furry and scaly creatures as service animals.
Some of the extreme examples they cited included a customer who rode a full-size horse into a store and a man who claimed the boa constrictor around his neck was necessary to prevent seizures.
“The ways that some people will push that envelope – I have to say, I’m kind of surprised we need a state law about this, but interests in my district convinced me that we do,” said Rep. Deb Eddy, D-Kirkland, the bill’s primary sponsor.
The measure has faced no formal opposition so far, but some have questioned its necessity.
“The concept of a service animal seems to be an especially fertile starting point for urban myths,” Toby Olson, executive secretary of the Governor’s Commission on Disability Issues and Employment, said at a Feb. 16 House Judiciary Committee hearing.
For example, he said, the incident involving the customer on horseback actually occurred in Texas.
The problems the bill attempts to address stem not from an animal’s species, but from whether it is properly trained, Olson said, noting that existing state law already requires a service animal to have undergone training.