[nagdu] Ask the Appeal: Can You Ask Someone For Service Animal "Proof?"

Ginger Kutsch gingerKutsch at yahoo.com
Fri Sep 10 13:14:38 UTC 2010

Ask the Appeal: Can You Ask Someone For Service Animal "Proof?"
by Katie Baker
September 9, 2010 9:50 AM
When a person says to you that their dog is a service dog are
they required to prove to you that they have a doctor's order for
a companion dog? 
Two incidents that bring context to my question. Shortly after
Diane Whipple was killed the Animal Control and Welfare
Commission held a hearing to consider a requirement to muzzle pit
bulls and rottweilers. About 350 showed up and about 100 brought
their dogs. The room was way overcrowded. A sheriff officer
stopped one of the people with a dog and advised him not to
enter. That person told him he had a doctor order for a companion
dog he could take the dog wherever he wanted. The officer told
him he wasn't questioning his rights, he just wanted him to know
it was very crowded. The guy didn't make it the length of the
room before his dog got into a nasty, growling, snarling, barking
fight with another dog. No one was hurt.
Last night I was at a community meeting at a clubhouse when a
person with one of those plastic ball throwers in one hand and a
leashed golden retriever on the other hand walked to the front of
the room. When informed by a person standing next to me that dogs
weren't allowed in the clubhouse the person said, "This is my
service dog it goes with me wherever I go and whenever I want."
Pause. "You're being very rude by questioning me." The person
standing next to me replied, "Well it doesn't look like a service
dog." At that point I intervened and said, "We didn't know it was
a service dog, now we do, what do you want?"
I suspect the answer might lie along the even if I have the right
it is better not to argue with someone needs a four legged
security blanket when in public.
Linda, a SF Animal Care and Control representative, told me a
person can prove his or her pet is a service animal with at least
one of three things: the required tag, an affidavit from the city
shelter, and/or a doctor's letter. While any one of these should
suffice, Linda said a doctor's letter is the only mandated item
according to the Americans With Disabilities Act and therefore a
service animal owner's best bet.
However, when I called the Department of Justice's ADA
information line to double check, a spokeswoman told me that one
isn't required to show any information - not even a doctor's note
- in most cases.
"Unless a person is trying to get a job or find a place to live,"
she said, "[s/he] doesn't have to show any tangible proof that
the pet is a service animal." 
(It's wise to remember that a person's disability might not be
evident to the naked eye, so visually evaluating the person with
the animal is rarely a good idea.)
Besides, of course, considering how important it is to you to
ensure the rules are being followed in any given situation, what
should someone (say, a business owner) do if faced with a
situation where they think a non-disabled person's trying to pull
the pet equivalent of bogarting a blue spot? 
"You can ask what kind of training the animal has received," the
spokeswoman said, "and then decide for yourself whether you want
to treat [the animal] as a service animal or otherwise."
In any case, according to the ADA: 
"A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service
animal from the premises unless: (1) the animal is out of control
and the animal's owner does not take effective action to control
it (for example, a dog that barks repeatedly during a movie) or
(2) the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of
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