Beebe officials are trying to put a little teeth in the enforcement of their vicious animals ordinance when it comes to banned breeds being claimed to be service animals.
“It is kind of difficult,” Maj. Mike Robertson said. “What we are doing is if someone claims they have a service dog and we go out there and it doesn’t appear that’s it’s a service dog but they have a service dog and it’s a banned breed of dog or vicious dog, then we are issuing them a citation to go before the judge and the judge will make that determination.”
“We are discussing with the prosecutor that we have a little bit more detail of how this is going to be determined in court.”
Robertson said a little more information is needed on what is defined as a service animal and what task or work that service animal performs for the individual person under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said the city is going to try to get “a little more questions on the handler” in such situations.
Beebe City Council member Shannon Woods had brought up the need for clarification on the use of banned breeds as service animals and suggested it be placed on the agenda for Monday’s meeting. Attorney Lindsey Coleman of Hillburn and Harper in North Little Rock, the law firm used by the city, was present to answer questions from Woods.
Coleman said “the ADA defines a service dog, which is the only category that falls under ADA protection, as a dog that is individually trained to work or to perform a specific task to the benefit of the individual with a disability, a disability that would be recognized by the ADA.”
She said the animal, in almost all cases “a dog,” has to be specifically trained to perform a task that aids the individual.
Coleman said a city ordinance “can’t do a blanket ban on a service animal but you have to qualify as a service animal in order to claim that exemption. Just because you are a service animal under the ADA doesn’t grant you unilateral protection if there is a public safety concern, if the animal is not under the direct control of the owner, there are several other kinds of caveats to that even if you are a service animal, if you pose a threat to society, if you are not acting as that owner’s service animal in that moment, you’re not always afforded the same [protection]”
Before Robertson said what the city is doing concerning banned breeds, Woods asked about the legality of requesting paperwork from those who say they have a service animal.
“I spoke to somebody yesterday who was telling me about an individual who took a monkey into Walmart and said it was a service animal. They could legally not ask that individual to leave,” she said. “How is the city handling that? Say animal control gets a call about a banned breed and the owner says, ‘Well, it’s my service animal.’ Legally they can’t ask for that paperwork can they?”
Coleman replied, “There is no legal paperwork that defines a service animal, which is a scenario that poses a little bit of a legal controversy here because correct in a public place, while you cannot ask for paperwork, you can ask if it is a service animal required because you have a disability and you can also ask what specific tasks that specific animal has been trained to perform. You cannot ask said animal to perform such a task but you can ask those two questions.”
Coleman explained that the majority of analysis on service animals is going to be on a case-by-case basis and a monkey is not going to fall under the category. “The ADA limits service animals to dogs and in certain circumstances mini-horses.”
Woods asked what if that call would be about a vicious breed of dog. Coleman said it would be a different analysis because “you can’t just completely say it can’t be a service dog because it is vicious but you can absolutely ban a specific animal if they are posing threats to anyone.”
Coleman said it took her quite a while to research the subject. “It is not an easy bar to meet,” she said. “Service animals are not pets. They are specifically trained.”
Woods said there are also situations with some individuals who say their dog is a service animal but it is really an emotional support animal. Coleman said, “Emotional support animals are not afforded protection by the ADA.”
Woods said numerous cities are faced with the same situation as Beebe, which is why she wanted to have a discussion on it. Robertson said, “Everyone is faced with this with any type of animal and there are penalties for fraudulently claiming this. Once again, when you get to court, it’s up to the judge.”