LEGAL FOLLOW-UP URGED
Re Doris Nelsen letter, "Service dog's ouster violates civil rights," Nov. 26:
The letter concerns Public Law 101-336 - the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The laws concerning service animals are therefore under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The ADA specifically prohibits businesses that serve the public from discriminating against persons with disabilities. The federal law is clear and understandable but unfortunately misconstrued or ignored through lack of acceptance by some Myrtle Beach establishments. This is not a frivolous issue, and ignorance of the law does not give license to disobey the law.
ADA as a federal mandate has priority over all state and local laws, as well as any business owner's standard of business, which might bar animals.
All businesses must, under federal law, permit entry to guests and/or customers and their respective service animals, as well as allow service animals to accompany such individuals to all public areas of a property. A property owner/facility manager is permitted to ask whether the animal is a service animal or a pet and whether the guest/customer has a disability. Once that answer is given, further questioning is forbidden under the law. In other words, the property owner/manager may not, under any circumstances, ask questions about the nature of the disability or the service provided by the animal. Likewise, the property owner/manager may not require proof of a disability or request certification that the animal is a service animal. Furthermore, no fees or deposits - even those normally charged for pets - may be charged for service animals.
This federal law applies to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis and shuttles, grocery and department stores, hospitals, medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks, zoos and public transportation (extra fees for additional seating are sometimes allowed). A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his/her service animal from the premises unless the animal is out of control and the animal's owner does not take effective action to control it (such as a dog that barks repeatedly at a movie) or the animal poses a direct threat to the safety of others. Businesses that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
A business, however, is not required to provide care or food for a service animal or provide a special location for it to relieve itself. Allergies and fear of animals are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people with service animals. Violators of the ADA can be prosecuted under the law and are subject to damages and penalties.
The account in The Sun News is most disturbing and indicates a total disregard for federal law. The disabled person so referenced should pursue this matter on behalf of herself, her service dog, Spirit, and all other disabled persons in the area. To allow this incident to go unchallenged is a slap in the face to all law-abiding citizens of our community.
The store manager in question had some kind of nerve to follow the disabled person around the premises and verbally reprimand her, as reported. This is most assuredly a serious form of discriminating harassment and should be legally addressed. To claim loudly that the service animal has fleas simply because the dog shakes his head is tantamount to saying that a child customer who scratches his/her head has lice or anyone who sneezes in the store is a harbinger of germ warfare. This scenario is totally ludicrous.
The woman's explanation to the manager, not required by law, fell on deaf ears and her subsequent efforts went for naught. This is most unfortunate for all concerned. The person who contributed this letter is to be applauded for exposing this atrocity. My advice is for the disabled lady and Spirit to visit the nearest office of the ACLU. And, as a backup, complaints against this manager and establishment should be immediately registered with the Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, PO Box 66738, Washington, DC 20035-6738.