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Washington bill would crack down on “service animals”

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 23, 2018

In this April 1, 2017 file photo, a service dog strolls through the isle inside a United Airlines plane at Newark Liberty International Airport while taking part in a training exercise, in Newark, N.J. Starting Jan. 1, only animals that fit the federal definition of service animal are covered by the Washington Law Against Discrimination. (Julio Cortez / AP)
In this April 1, 2017 file photo, a service dog strolls through the isle inside a United Airlines plane at Newark Liberty International Airport while taking part in a training exercise, in Newark, N.J. Starting Jan. 1, only animals that fit the federal definition of service animal are covered by the Washington Law Against Discrimination. (Julio Cortez / AP)
By Rachel Sun For The Spokesman-Review

People bringing their untrained pets into stores as “service animals” would face civil penalties under a bill passed by a Senate committee Thursday.

The definition of a service animal would be narrowed to meet the definition used by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Only specially trained dogs, and some miniature horses, would be legally recognized as service animals.

It also authorizes public accommodations officers to ask questions to determine whether an animal is being misrepresented as a service animal.

Supporters of the bill say keeping untrained and potentially hazardous animals out of businesses and away from both customers and legitimate service animals would help maintain health code standards, limit store liability and uphold the legitimacy of real service animals.

During public testimony last month before the bill passed the House, Emily Rogers, who brought her service dog, Raleigh, said untrained animals could threaten the legal protections for service dogs like hers that have years of training.

“Raleigh has had over two years of extensive training before we got her, and I continue to work with her every day,” Rogers said. “She was born to work as a service dog. Not all dogs are cut out for this.”

Nick Akins, vice president of Akins Harvest Foods, said untrained animals create an unsanitary and unpleasant experience for customers. He has had to deal with animals barking, sitting in carts and even defecating.

“None of (these) behaviors above would ever be allowed with a trained service animal,” he said. “Our customers are appalled and complain quite often.”

Many people will claim their untrained pet is a service animal when it is clearly not, he said. But store employees are not allowed ask further questions after the customer says their animal is a service animal.

“Most people tell us that the animal they are bringing in is a service animal, when in fact it is a comfort animal, which is not allowed in food establishments,” he said. “Our hands our tied.”

The Law and Justice Committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the Senate.

Editor’s note: The headline on this article was changed on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018 to correct an error in the headline. The bill orginated in the Washington House of Representatives but was passed on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 by a Senate committee.

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