Service dog snafu leads to awareness of federal law at Jax restaurant

By Gary Scott on December 19, 2015 at 10:18am

A candidate for Morgan County State’s Attorney spent time this week at a Jacksonville restaurant explaining the rules of allowing service animals in certain establishments.

South Jacksonville attorney Tyson Manker went to the Burger Board restaurant on Tuesday after a recent incident at the establishment involving a war veteran who came in with a service dog.

The veteran apparently suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and got upset when questioned about the dog’s presence by an assistant manager.

Manker, a former Marine who fought in the Iraq War in the 2000s, explained that the Americans With Disabilities Act covers the “dos and don’ts” of service animals, being dogs or miniature horses.

Some of the key points covered: the animal must be controlled by its owner, and the restaurant has the right to ask that the service animal be removed if it becomes out of control or not housebroken.

You may ask if an animal is a service animal if it isn’t obvious, and you can ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform. However, you can’t ask the customer if they have a disability, or what disability it is, and you can’t ask to see the paperwork of the service animal.

Karen Danner, a co-owner of Burger Board, says it’s “extremely rare” that a person has come into the restaurant with a service animal.

“When we’ve had someone come in with a service animal in the past, it was because they were visually impaired, and they needed the animal for that reason. In this particular circumstance, it was not visibly obvious that he needed to have a service dog,” says Danner.

“It was a total misunderstanding. We would never question the service of a veteran, and we love to have them as customers in here, and if they need to come in with a dog now, everybody’s educated and understands what they need to do and how they need to handle it.”

Federal law says service animals must be allowed at “places of public accommodation” such as hotels, restaurants or movie theaters. Danner hopes this serves as a lesson for those types of establishments.

“I think everybody in town or anybody who has a business needs to know and understand the rights and the circumstances that they are allowed to ask what questions so that they can handle it better for the veteran and make them feel comfortable, not to add to their problems. That was never the intent of anybody’s here, for sure,” she says.

Service animals can be used for physical or psychiatric services, but not for general emotional support. Manker says there are numerous benefits.

“Whether it be retrieving items or alerting the handler that it’s time to take medication. There can be anxiety or depression issues. The key is that the animal itself be trained to do some sort of particular work for the individual who it corresponds with,” says Manker.

“What the law requires is that, if for example, a veteran with PTSD has a service animal for his or her PTSD, that dog has to be able to perform some sort of calming or soothing that’s related to the actual diagnosis. There’s a fine line, and it’s often hard to determine where that line is,” he says.

Manker adds that it isn’t always clear if it’s a service animal, and that he’s talked with others that use them- particularly, military veterans- about making it clear by having the animal wear an identifying vest.

Manker also noted that if a customer feels his or her rights have been violated under the White Cane Law or the Animal Access Law, they may file a complaint with the local state’s attorney.