Oregon law is pretty lax where service animals are concerned. It sets relatively few standards about what animals are considered “service” animals. That’s caused problems for everyone from grocery store owners to the disabled themselves. Now a bill before the Oregon Legislature introduced by Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, has introduced a measure that would improve the situation.
SB 610 would amend state law regarding service or assistance animals to bring it into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Service animals are animals trained to help people with a disability. Among the changes proposed:
• Service animals would be defined as dogs or, in some cases, miniature horses. The list could be expanded, however, at the discretion of the Bureau of Labor and Industries.
• Animals in the process of being trained to act as service animals would be allowed in public accommodations and state government sites, just as those already trained would be. That is necessary, lawmakers believe, to give animals exposure to the kinds of real-life situations they will have to handle when they are working.
• Animals will have to meet the same behavior standards as their owners do. Thus, the Senate Judiciary Committee was told last week, a dog would not be allowed to lick the fruit in a grocery store if that store doesn’t let people lick the fruit. Animals and their owners who fail to meet that standard could be asked to leave.
• Owners whose animals damaged property, say, a hotel room, could be charged for that damage.
• And businesses could not question whether or not an animal owner is disabled, but they could ask what sorts of tasks the animal has been trained to perform.
There are good reasons for the proposed changes aside from the ADA. Too many people, in Oregon and elsewhere, have decided that their dogs should be allowed to accompany them everywhere, including places like restaurants and grocery stores. Some go so far as to buy official-looking vests for their pets to keep questions to a minimum.
These changes help make clear the idea that though Muffy may make her owner happy, that’s not what Oregon’s law regarding service animals is all about. In doing so, they make it easier for the owners of real service dogs to gain access to the world the rest of us take for granted.