Saturday, April 16, 2016

Service dogs and churches

Sometimes it's the service dog handler who's at fault in a confrontation over discrimination.

In the Tampa Bay Times the other day, there was a story about veterans suffering from PTSD who were having trouble getting their highly trained dogs accepted as service animals. One told about how a nun and a priest shooed him out of a Catholic church where he’d gone to pray. He was humiliated and upset.

It was all a misunderstanding, the bishop said. He’d been told the animal was a guard dog, not a service dog.

Not until the end of the story did the reporter reveal that churches are specifically exempt from the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They are not bound by law to open their doors to service dog teams.

The only exception is when a church hosts a public event, such as a bazaar or pancake supper where items are sold and the general public is invited.

The veteran, who seemed unaware of the religious exemption, should have asked ahead if he could bring his dog. The result probably would have been different.

Not long ago, before taking Trooper with me to a funeral at an Episcopal church in Evanston, I called the day before to ask if the dog could accompany me.

"Sure," replied the rector. "Thanks for the heads-up."

Sometimes it’s easier to reverse the adage and ask permission rather than beg forgiveness afterward.

By the way, private homes are also exempt from the ADA. We have good friends who like Trooper but don't want animal hair and dander in their house. That's OK. They just come to our condo for wine and cheese—and they always bring a bottle. Everybody's happy.

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