Garfield County Public Health clarifies rules on service and emotional support animals
Garfield County Public Health has fielded numerous calls recently concerning animals being in area restaurants and grocery stores, prompting the department to clarify what qualifies as a service animal.
“We have been receiving a lot more [calls] now that the weather is warm,” county Public Health Specialist Carrie Godes said. “I received one actually just last week from a concerned person who was in a grocery store and saw an animal in the basket of a shopping cart.”
A recent Garfield County Public Health press release emphasized how laws afforded to service animals do not extend to emotional support animals.
“We receive complaints of animals behaving poorly, going to the bathroom on floors, begging for food off other patron’s plates, or riding in grocery carts,” Nettie Mojarro, environmental health specialist for the county said in the release.
“Service animals typically do not behave like that,” Mojarro added.
Federal law classifies service animals as trained animals that do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Additionally, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, entities must permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of their business open to the public, unless they pose a direct threat or health risk to other people.
“They are not pets. They are working animals,” Godes explained of service animals, which may perform tasks like guiding a blind person, pulling a wheelchair or retrieving items such as medications.
“It is only service animals that are allowed in food serving establishments,” she said.
While the law does not require service animals to wear special harnesses or for their owners to carry certification papers, employees may ask a patron if their animal is a service animal and what task it has been trained to perform.
A petty offense, state law provides that misrepresenting an animal as a service animal may carry with it a fine of between $50 and $500.
Godes explained how Garfield County Consumer Protection Division was continuing to work with food serving establishments about the laws differentiating service animals and emotional support animals.
“When you are going into a restaurant, when you are going into a grocery store — any place where food is served — it is really only a place for service animals and not a place for emotional support animals,” Godes said. “[Emotional support animals] are there to provide comfort, or assistance, but that does not rise to the level of a service animal.”
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