I rode into work earlier this week listening to a radio show discussion centered on dogs that are being passed off as service dogs to accompany their owners in public places. The discussion I’m sure was based on this New York Post article profiling a guy who bought a phony guide dog patch off the Internet to get his dog into shops and restaurants. Doing a little digging, I found many online companies that sell dog harness kits and patches. This particular company requires a photo of your dog, but does not require a certificate of dog training or proof of disability to buy its products.
Coincidentally, I got an email from Petti Riley, who manages the Dollar Rent-A-Car in Jackson, Wyo.
“More and more people are traveling with their pets and they don’t use pet carriers,” wrote Riley. She wrote that she had just rented to a woman with a large service dog. She politely asked if the renter could use a pet carrier. The renter refused; moreover she told her it is illegal to charge for cleanup if the service dog creates a mess in the car. “Cleanup is difficult,” she wrote. “The [next] customer ends up hating you and just does not see or want to see all the dog hair left behind. It really makes for a delicate situation. In consideration of our next customers, you would expect customers to be more considerate. What are other agencies doing?”
Let’s assume that in Riley’s case, the dog was in fact a real service dog. Nonetheless, Riley reports an increase in service dogs — and dogs in general — accompanying renters.
“Local people have been the biggest abusers, insurance replacement rentals when the customer is the claimant,” wrote Riley, who is a dog owner herself. “We’ve had seat belts chewed through, rearview mirrors chewed up and we have had the front bumper of a Toyota Yaris look like a chew stick (it was parked in the renter’s garage). … The body shop that did the repairs said it happens all the time.”
I reached out to Leslie Pujo of LaPlaca Pujo for a legal perspective.
“Although rental companies are required to waive ‘no pet’ or pet-deposit policies, the ADA’s guidelines [based on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990] on service animals expressly permits a company to charge for damages caused by a service animal, as long as the company normally charges for pet damage,” Pujo responded.
Pujo provided an excerpt from her summary of ADA for rental companies, which includes a link to the ADA’s summary:
Service Animals. If a disabled customer uses a service animal, the Rental Company must make certain accommodations. A “service animal” is a dog that is trained to perform tasks on behalf of persons with disabilities. If a customer has a service animal, the following rules apply:
(1) Employees may ask only two questions: (a) Is the dog a service animal? and (b) What service does the dog perform? Employees may not request documentation to prove that the animal is a service animal or require a demonstration of the dog’s services.
(2) Allergies or fear of animals is not a reason to deny access to the Rental Company office or refuse a rental.
(3) A Rental Company may not ask a customer to remove a service animal from the premises, unless the animal is out of control or not housebroken.
(4) If the Rental Company normally charges a pet deposit, that deposit must be waived for service animals.
(5) The Rental Company may charge the renter for damage to the rental agency or rental vehicle caused by the service animal.
(See Service Animals, available at http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm.)
With this recent press, disabled owners with legitimate service dogs are being hassled and questioned unnecessarily. Nonetheless, with the increasing preponderance of service dogs, rental companies need to know the rights of the dog owner as well as the rights of the renter.
This pamphlet, issued by the State of Missouri with information from the U.S. Department of Justice, gives best practices on businesses dealing with guide dogs. It is important to note that “therapy,” “emotional support” and “companion” dogs are not federally protected, which means they do not have legally afforded public access privileges.
How have other rental companies dealt with this situation?