Service animals now limited to dogs and miniature horses in Ariz. - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Service animals now limited to dogs and miniature horses in Ariz.

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Posted: Monday, February 25, 2013 4:13 pm | Updated: 7:01 am, Mon Sep 8, 2014.

Forget the ferrets. Cancel the cats. And don't even discuss the ducks.

On a voice vote, the state House on Monday agreed to narrow the definition of what can be considered a "service animal'' solely to dogs and miniature horses. Every other kind of creature, furry, feathered or otherwise, now allowed under Arizona, law would become off limits.

A final roll-call vote will send the measure to the Senate.

Roxane Nielsen, owner of Prescott Brewing Co., told lawmakers during an earlier hearing on HB 2401 the move is long overdue.

"I can't say we've had lions and tigers and bears,'' she testified. "But we've had parrots and ferrets and squirrels.''

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires that places where the public can go must accommodate service animals.

Two years ago, however, the U.S. Department of Justice revised its own rules to narrow the list of animals recognized to dogs and miniature horses. But the Arizona law has not kept pace, allowing the owner of any kind of animal to declare it a "service animal.''

Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, told colleagues he's seen the same problem in his family-owned grocery store.

"It creates a public health problem in our business,'' he said. And Shope said a single incident where an animal contaminated food would put it out of business.

The changes in HB 2401 actually are much broader.

Aside from limiting what can be a service animal, the legislation also spells out what kind of conditions allow someone to bring a dog or miniature horse with them. More to the point, it says that an animal required solely for "comfort'' or emotional support does not qualify.

Put another way, someone who says he or she needs the animal solely because it makes them calmer is going to have to leave it outside or at home.

But the federal law does spell out that the list of what is considered acceptable includes calming an individual with post traumatic stress disorder during an anxiety attack. And the Arizona statute would refine that to include helping those with psychiatric and neurological disorders "by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors.''

That led Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, to question how a restaurant owner can determine someone with a real disability -- and not simply "a Paris Hilton need to carry your animal with you.''

Sherry Gillespie, lobbyist for the Arizona Restaurant Association, said businesses need to tread carefully.

When a disability is not obvious, she said federal law permits someone to ask only two questions: is the animal required because of a disability, and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform.

But they cannot inquire about the person's disability or require medical documentation. They also cannot demand a special identification card or ask that the animal demonstrate the ability to perform the task.

Helping someone with certain psychological disorders is only one of the list of tasks that would be considered acceptable under the Arizona law. Others range from helping someone with vision problems to navigate, alerting those with hearing issues to the presence of people or sounds, pulling a wheelchair, assisting during a seizure, retrieving items like medicine or a telephone and assisting with balance or stability.

That still leaves the question about those miniature horses.

"What can they do that dogs can't do?'' asked Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley.

"They live longer than dogs,'' said Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, the sponsor of the legislation, who said she rides and shows horses. "So when you establish this relationship with your service animal, if you're going invest that kind of time and money into a relationship that you're 100 percent dependent on that animal, wouldn't it be great if you could have something that lives 20-30 years as opposed to eight, 11, 12 years.''

She also said they have greater peripheral vision. And finally, because they're stronger than most dogs, they can help pull people in wheelchairs much easier.

"And I'll just answer the question that everybody's asked me privately in hall, and I'm going to put it on the record: They are fully potty trained,'' Carter said.

Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, agreed that the list of permitted animals should be narrowed, conceding, though, "I'm a cat person.''

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